Friday, August 21, 2009

Hermeneutics for the Millennium: Sometimes People Work Too Hard to Miss the Obvious

"For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night."
- Psalm 90:4

This thought is repeated in II Peter 3:8, "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
Roman Numeral 1000

Revelation, chapter 20, contains the phrase "thousand years" six times in the first seven verses. And many Christians take that as a literal, countable, one thousand years, neither more nor less. This literalistic interpretation has become predominant, in spite of two relevant facts: first, that the phrase recurs in a chapter otherwise full of symbolic, even mysterious, imagery; and second, that isn't the way the phrase is otherwise used in Scripture.

Historically, Protestants have used the phrase "the analogy of faith" to express the same principle that we now phrase as "scripture interprets scripture." The difference is that historical Protestants meant it as using clearer passages to interpret the more obscure. Yet, in this case, modern evangelicals take an obscure passage to force an interpretation on passages which were easier to understand before the insertion of Revelation 20.

As indicated by Moses in Psalm 90, and the Apostle Peter in his second epistle, "a thousand years" is used to indicate a time beyond our conception, but representing an indefinite period of time in which God completes His purposes. That interpretation brought into Revelation 20 makes sense, but the literalist interpretation of Revelation 20 imposed on Psalm 90 and II Peter makes nonsense. Which is likely to be the purpose of God?

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