It was recently asked on a Christian forum, why are there so many diverse systems of eschatology? I mean, shouldn’t interpreting the Bible be simple–at least relatively speaking? At first glance, one would think so, considering that Paul spoke plainly (2 Cor. 3: 12; Col. 4: 4), and that Timothy understood the Scriptures as a little child (2 Tim. 3: 15). But not all Christians see things plainly, nor are they childlike in their understanding.
Because of the different hermeneutical approaches, a variety of eschatological opinions are afloat. Most folks have been indoctrinated into a certain interpretive method, and thus are unable to see things from a different perspective. But what we really ought to ask is this: how did Christ and the apostles interpret the Scriptures? If we can gain insight into their hermeneutical approach, we will have a valuable key to understanding the true meaning of Biblical texts.
For obvious reasons, I call this the Great Hermeneutical Challenge. It is a challenge because few have taken it up. It is “great,” for even fewer have thought of it. But just think. If we go back through the New Testament and see how Christ and the apostles interpreted Old Testament prophecy, we may reach some higher ground. Is such ground worth reaching? I think so! Let us, then, put the theory into practice.
When I apply my test to the New Testament, I begin immediately to see some glaring contradictions between the Biblical view and that of the “spiritualizers.” Consider, for example, Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. When our Lord was tempted, He refuted Satan with what most people would consider a “proof-texting” method (Matt. 4: 1-11). The Lord quoted Scriptures plainly and simply, and expected that the apparent meaning of the verses were enough to refute him who from the beginning sought to put false glosses on the Word of God (Gen. 3: 1). Let us take careful note of this.
As a matter of fact, if we look at the usage of Old Testament Scriptures throughout the New Testament, we’ll find a conspicuous absence of those subtle dialectics used by students who embrace the Alexandrian method of Biblical interpretation.
We ought of course to keep in mind, that many prophecies have multiple fulfillment. Therefore, when it is hinted by the apostles that a prophecy was fulfilled in their own time, it does not preclude future fulfillment of the same prophecy–especially considering that in most cases the context of the verse itself makes future fulfillment necessary.
I guess what I am saying is this: that Christ and His inspired apostles always broke it down simply for their first-century listeners. This simplicity is especially apparent in the predictions concerning our Lord’s first advent. These predictions were fulfilled with a remarkable literality that cannot be denied.
Consider the following prophecies: Our Lord was literally born of a virgin (Isaiah 7: 14), rode literally upon an ass (Zech. 9: 9), was literally led as a sheep to the slaughter (Isaiah 53: 7), literally given vinegar and gall to drink (Psalm 69: 21), and literally bore our infirmities upon the tree. His garments were literally parted (Psalm 22: 18), and He literally rose from the grave: all that the Scriptures might be fulfilled!
Herein we have a clue as to how the inspired prophecies concerning the Lord’s second advent will be accomplished. As the sun was literally darkened on the cross, so it must be darkened when He returns (Matt. 24: 29). As Christ mounted to heaven in a literal cloud (Acts 1: 9), so He will return in the clouds of heaven to claim His kingdom (Daniel 7; Matt. 24: 30).
As we see, one advent cannot be literalized, while the other is spiritualized. The manner of fulfillment of both advents must be the same. At least one would think so, according to human reason alone. And there is nothing in Scripture which contradicts this assumption. The rampant spiritualization of the prophetic texts is one of the main reasons why there are so many eschatological problems out there.
But if we would up the Great Heremeneutical Challenge, we might find that our methods of interpreting Scripture are not Biblical. What should we do in such a case? Surely we should try to gain a better method of approach.
While it is evident that not all portions of Holy Writ are transparent to the common reader, some lucidity is to be sought for and expected from a Book whose purpose is to reveal God’s salvation to sinners. Ought we to expect any kind of perspicuity in such a book? An application of the heremeneutical test outlined above would give us an affirmative answer. Then let us seek for clearness of thought and expression.
The simplicity of the Gospel. That is what the Great Hermeneutical Challenge will drive us towards. It amazes me whenever I think of how I used to allegorize the plainest verses of Scripture to suit my preconceived notions of what God must mean. Was I putting words into the Savior’s mouth? If so, I repent of my folly. At least I see now that the Bible was written by and for plain-minded individuals. They could not grasp the complex philosophical arguments of the Alexandrian school. Nor could I, a humble preacher living in God’s green country.
So what did I do? I returned to the system of hermeneutics espoused by my brethren in simplicity of understanding. And I’ve found that this has greatly benefited me, blessing my studies & helping me to grow in grace. Also, it has given me a greater ability to explain the correct meaning of Biblical texts. Would I ever go back to my former methods? Absolutely not.
Reader, although this is a brief and cursory study, take a moment to examine your hermeneutical approach. Is it one that Peter and Paul might have used? Is it one upon which Christ the Son of God would have set His seal? Consider these things when you have time for meditation, and don’t answer me; answer your heart. Then, if your answer is no, ask yourself whether you are ready to take up the Great Hermeneutical Challenge. I ask, are you ready? If so, then come with me, and let us dine.