Opinions on faith and life

The Literal/Historical/Grammatical Hermeneutic

(originally found at http://cyber.wmis.net/~ixthys/gpdd-mill-3.htm as part of a debate on Preterism)

NOTE added Sept. 2009: I’ve noticed that some have attributed this article to me, but I should have made it more obvious that this article was pasted from the link above and not written by me. My apologies for any misunderstanding.

The first item which can only be identified as straw man argumentation on the part of our Preterist friend is the oversimplification and mischaracterization of the Grammatico-Historical (i.e., consistently literal) hermeneutic. Bryan assumes falsely that consistent literalism equals wooden literalism; i.e., that the consistently literal hermeneutic would infer that Jesus is not only fully God and fully Man, but fully Vegetable as well (John 15:5). Nothing could be farther from the truth; I must assume therefore that our Preterist friend has brought to the table that which was not there — i.e., has eisegeted my very foundational principle (consistent literalism, aka the Grammatico-Historical hermeneutic) by injecting a prejudiced understanding of the same.

Footnote #5 of my first Affirmative clearly defined what is meant by the consistent literalist when he applies this term to himself and his hermeneutic. For convenience’s sake, I reiterate and expand on it here:

Literal interpretation of the Bible simply means to explain the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary usages of its language. How is this done? It can only be accomplished through an interpretation of the written text which includes consideration of the grammatical (according to the rules of grammar), historical (consistent with the historical setting of the passage), contextual (in accord with its context) method of interpretation. This is what literalists mean by consistently literal interpretation.1

To break this excellent definition down a bit further, we note that:

By Grammatical, we refer to the process of seeking to determine [the Bible’s] meaning by ascertaining four things: (a) the meanings of words (lexicology), (b) the form of words (morphology), (c) the function of words (parts of speech), and (d) the relationship of words (syntax).2

By Historical, we recognize that the proper concept of the historical in Bible interpretation is to view the Scriptures as written during given ages and cultures. Applications may then be drawn which are relevant to our times.3

By Contextual, we mean that no interpretation of any passage may violate the clear context of that passage. That is, all passages have one and only one proper interpretation (unless clearly stated otherwise by other parts of Scripture), but possibly several applications. Therefore, when a passage is dealing with Israel, it is dealing with Israel, and not the Church; and vice-versa.

Now, of course the Bible — which is truly a library of 66 separate Books — contains within it a full range of literary styles. Even dense dispensationalists such as myself recognize that apocalyptic literature differs in style dramatically from historical narrative, and likewise didactic passages differ from wisdom literature. To quote again from Thomas Ice: Literal interpretation recognizes that a word or phrase can be used either plainly (denotative) or figuratively (connotative).4 It is a straw man to suggest that the consistent literalist means otherwise.

However, the consistent literalist finds the statement prose standards will not help you in understanding poetry, because the poet is not aiming to tell you a story or impart factual data.5 Continuing my quote of Ice, as in our own conversations today, the Bible may use plain speech, such as ’He died yesterday’ (denotative use of language). Or the same thing may be said in a more colorful way, ’He kicked the bucket yesterday’ (connotative use of language). An important point to be noted is that even though we may use a figure of speech to refer to someone’s death, we are using that figure to refer to an event that literally happened… Literalists understand that a figure of speech is employed by Isaiah teaching that the Adamic curse upon nature will be reversed in the millennium when he says, ’And all the trees of the field will clap their hands’ (Isa. 55:12d). this figure is discerned by specific factors in the context in which it was written, all dealing with the removal of the curse upon nature at this future time. Even though figurative language is employed, it will literally happen in history. [emphasis mine]6

Our Preterist friend further sets up his straw man by stating that my opponent who criticizes ’symbolism’ in favor of ’literalism’ has erred in his definition of literal.7 I make no such criticism. My aversion is against spiritualization of passages which have a clear, contextual, historical, grammatical understanding — that is, my aversion is to eisegesis of Scripture.8 It is the same sort of spiritualization which allows for blasphemous interpretations of Scripture such as those used to support racism9 or soften the blow of those passages which condemn homosexual practice.

Yes, God inspired poetry in His Word; but even in poetry He is utterly incapable of communicating anything less than absolute truth. Therefore, even though the famous passage states poetically that The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, I understand it to mean exactly what it says: namely, that my God is my provider and my protector, and He supplies all my needs. Even in poetry, the details are still just as truthful and authoritative as in the Epistles (note the vivid description of the Crucifixion in Psalm 22).10 God’s poetry is no less stringently truthful than is His historical narrative. It is therefore insufficient to state that the Bible brings us the truth from God; rather, the Bible is the complete and inerrant Truth of God.

Bryan’s curious argumentation against an exegetical hermeneutic mirrors those of Ken Gentry and Gary North, and betrays an inherent misapprehension of what is meant by consistent literalism.

The problem with the allegorical (spiritualized, eisegetic) method of interpretation is that it divorces the meaning of the Text from the Text itself and injects instead a preconception that — not surprisingly — invariably returns interpretations utterly consistent with that preconception. In other words, it makes anything eminently provable from Scriptures simply by coming at the Scriptures with a view not to discover what it actually says, but to prove what one wishes it to. Therefore, Israel becomes not the physical seed of Jacob (as strictly defined by the Old Testament and ratified by the New), but the Church. The unconditional promises made by YHWH to Abraham, and repeated to the children of Jacob, become magically conditional, and devolve to the Church.

Thus, Bryan feels himself completely justified in simply asserting that the church is often referred to as Israel or Jerusalem in the OT in antitype form.11 Unfortunately, whereas in the exegetical hermeneutic there is no reason to foist upon the relevant passages such a bizzare and completely unjustified interpretation, Bryan is — as all Preterists — forced into prejudicial allegory and simply assume that such is the case due to his a priori assumption that it just simply must be so!

However, I am sadly running out of space.

I will be unable to respond to the full volume of Bryan’s response, but I must answer a selection of the major points:

Chilioi Symbolic?

Bryan points out that the form of the word is adjectival. He asserts rather strangely that it is therefore more suitable for a figurative use.12 How he arrives at this conclusion would be baffling were it not for the understanding that he simply has to, due to his allegorical hermeneutic.

Of course cilia is adjectival; it modifies the noun eth. It is just as it is in English, where in the term thousand years the word thousand modifies the plural noun years in order to delineate just how many years. Why on earth should it be otherwise? Shall epta (seven) now in Revelation 1:4 simply mean an indeterminate number of churches? It is, after all, an adjective! Shall pente (five), another adjective found in Matthew 14:19 simply mean an indeterminate number of loaves? Indeed, shall eis (one) in Corinthians 8:5 now mean an indeterminate number of Gods? We are soon left in a morass of silliness should our Preterist friend’s curious assertion play out consistently! Bryan also betrays a lack of comprehension of simple Greek syntax; the simple fact that a word is an adjective fails miserably to make it more suitable for a figurative use, as it is a well known fact that the Greeks were quite fond of a construction unique to their tongue known as the adjectival noun. The closest analogue we have in English is when we ourselves use what is normally an adjective in a nounal form: Such as using Reds to refer to Communists.13

Not only that, but the Greek structure of the relevant verses in Revelation 20 demands that the form of the word be cilia. In Greek, much like in Latin, Spanish, German, and a host of other tongues, to satisfy correct grammar there must be gender and number agreement. The noun in these cases (eth) is plural; its adjective must likewise be plural. The noun is neuter; its adjective must likewise be neuter. Why our Preterist friend believes it should — or indeed, even could — be otherwise is truly mystifying.

Besides, as in English, the fact that a word is an adjective no more makes it more suitable for a figurative use than if it is an adverb or pronoun. When I say that I own two computers, the word two — in this sentence taking up the position of the adjective, in that it modifies the plural noun computers to delineate how many computers — is not more suited for a figurative use. Indeed, when I say that I have two computers, I mean quite literally that I have two computers. I do not have an indefinite number (else I would say many or some rather than specify two), nor does the number (which, remember, in this case takes the position of an adjective) bear any spiritualized significance. It means what it says.

Numeric magnitude also fails to make a precise number somehow more suitable for a figurative use. If I say, for instance, that there are 101 dalmations, I mean that there are 101 dalmations. If I say that I spent $1000, I do not mean that I spent an unspecified amount of money; I mean quite literally that I spent $1000.

Adding to this, the morphology of cilia is neuter, plural, nominative.

The lynchpin argument against Forgy’s strange assertion is the plain and simple fact of Greek syntax (much like English, I might add) that cardinal numbers (cilia being a cardinal number) define quanity. Forgy’s assertion would have more chance of being mistaken for correct were it an ordinal number or a cardinal used as an adverb (where it would define frequency or order and hence less emphasis on actual quantity). But the simple fact of its cardinality nails the lid shut on any allegorical interpretation that wishes to at least pretend agreement with an exegetical hermeneutic.

The simple fact is that the allegoricist must perform the most astounding textual gymnastics to so convolute Revelation 20 to mean other than what it does, and to make the thousand years referred to mean other than a thousand years. There is simply no reason to believe that it is otherwise, no verse that demands that it mean something else, nothing inherent to the context to justify its allegorization. The structure is precisely what it should be for what it is — a factual presentation explaining what the 1000 years (or the cilia eth, if you prefer) will be like; namely, the binding and sealing of Lucifer, so that nations should no more be deceived during this period, the Great White Throne judgment, and the physical reigning of Jesus on Earth.

Our Preterist friend’s rejection of the Biblical account as being accurate is based not on the merits of that account itself — not on any textual, grammatical, or other such basis — but on the simple fact that it cannot be as it says due to his preconceived interpretive grid.

Further, as many point out constantly when battling adherents of the Word-Faith Movement, Strong’s is not the final Greek authority! Etymologies no more define Greek words than they do English. Were this not the case, a pharmacist would be a sorceror, not a medical professional. Etymology can be useful to deduce nuances, and can be crucial in a proper understanding of words; but etymology fails to demand the same. Words often evolve far outside their etymological roots as a language develops. (Note in English that the term cool can mean either low in temperature or really nifty. The really nifty definition has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with its etymological root. That glaring fact, however, fails miserably to deter the word from meaning what it does.)

My original argument still stands.14

Israel = Church?

Our Preterist friend falls into the same trap he incorrectly accuses myself of, namely that of [keeping on] making assumptions that he does not prove in [his rebuttal], he just says it is so because, well, just because he says.15 To be fair, this is a problem pandemic in Preterist writings. Since there is absolutely nothing inherent in the Text to suggest the false equation of Israel (and Jerusalem, no less!) with the Church, he is forced to simply assume it is so and then assert it thus.

The facts are, as I pointed out in my First Affirmative, Israel and the Church have different origins, different promises, different programs, and different destinies. In Scripture, ’Israel’ refers to the actual, physical descendants of Jacob through the Twelve Patriarchs; the ’Church’ is an entirely distinct body, composed of both Jew and Gentile, an mystery during the Old Testament period, and a temporary setting in which national distinctions are not accounted.16 I then proceeded to cite major passages of prophecy dealing with Israel and pointed out how, upon their natural, Occam’s Razor, contextual reading, they deal with Israel, not the Church. This is a point necessarily uncontested by Bryan, whose only possible refutation involves asserting the assumption that, yes, when it says ’Israel’ it means ’the Church’. Admirable as his dedication to his hermeneutic is, dedication and sincerity do not equate correctness.

Middle Wall Raised?

Bryan asserts that for God to restore national Israel (something, incidentally, He has already begun to do in 1948), He must raise again the middle wall of partition. In this he makes a fatal error in assuming that the Law (the middle wall being referenced) was ever a means of relationship with God. Paul aptly points out that the Law was given not to justify, but to point to the Way of justification.17 Remember that Israel was supposed to be a witness nation, and through her the Gentiles were to be blessed. All men — Jew and Gentile alike — were brought near by the blood of Christ, since all men were separated from God by sin, whether Jew or no.

Also, as a very articulate dispensationalist friend of mine pointed out when reviewing Bryan’s first rebuttal, God does not have to re-establish the old economy to restore Israel! The New Covenant is a new economy.18

Ah, I have run out of space! How I wish I could continue, but alas, I must simply ask the curious reader to review my arguments in my first affirmative, as they have not been successfully answered in Bryan’s first rebuttal, to my estimation. Also, I will post along with this rebuttal a summary rebuttal written by a friend of mine which does, in fact, go into limited detail.

  1. From the web article, The First Foundation: Consistent Literal Interpretation http://millenianet.com/atpro4se/literal.html
  2. Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Wheaton, Il.: Victor Books, 1991), p. 100
  3. Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Winona Lake, In.: Assurance Publishers, 1974), p. 103
  4. Thomas Ice, The First Foundation: Consistent Literal Interpretation
  5. Bryan Forgy, Forgy’s First Negative On The Millennium
  6. Thomas Ice, The First Foundation: Consistent Literal Interpretation
  7. Forgy, First Negative
  8. Eisegesis means essentially to read in to a Text what is not there. It is the opposite of exegesis, which essentially means to read out of a Text what is there.
  9. As a side note, the Dake Annotated Study Bible is a superb example of this very sort of thing.
  10. This is even more stunning when one realizes that crucifixion was a form of capital punishment unknown in David’s day; that it wasn’t even invented until two hundred years after his death by the Persians. God’s accuracy — even in poetry — is 100%
  11. Forgy, First Negative
  12. ibid.
  13. This is, admittedly, a poor example, since the word Red in this case is simply reclassed in English as a full-orbed noun. There is truly no precise analogue in English for the Greek adjectival noun, nor in any other language that I am personally aware of.
  14. For the sake of convenience, I quote that argument here:

    The Millennium is extensively prophesied in both the Old and New Testaments, but is specifically defined as a literal one thousand year period in Revelation chapter 20. In fact, it is specifically defined as such no less than six times (once each in 20:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7). One is forced to engage in some fairly intriguing exegetical gymnastics in order to spiritualize away the obvious thrust of the passage and make the manifold references to a literal thousand-year period refer to something entirely else.

    The characteristics of this thousand year period, according to Revelation 20, are:

    • Satan is bound in the bottomless pit, and shut up, so that he cannot deceive the nations throughout this period. [vv.2-3]
    • Those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus during the Tribulation Period (who had not worshipped the Beast, had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands) are resurrected at the beginning of the Millennium (and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years). [v. 4]
    • The unrighteous dead remain dead during this period; their resurrection is reserved for after the Millennium. [v. 5]
    • The totality of the people of God (Israel, the Church, and the Tribulation and Millennial Saints) experience the unprecedented blessings of Jesus’ direct rule and reign. [v. 6] (Michael D Macon, The Millennium)
  15. Forgy, First Negative
  16. Macon, The Millennium"
  17. Galatians 3:24
  18. I point out in footnote #4 of my first affirmative that the Church partakes in the blessings of the New Covenant in a definite but limited sense. This is a far cry from usurping those blessings.
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