Saturday, October 8, 2016

Is a Literal Hermeneutic Appropriate to Biblical Prophecy?


There is an interesting verse in Hosea, that is, written by a prophet, which gives direction on how prophecy is to be interpreted:

"I [God] spoke to the prophets;
It was I who multiplied visions,
And, through the prophets, gave parables."
- Hosea 12:10

It is on that last line that I wish to focus: "Through the prophets, I gave parables." What is a parable? we have all heard that popular definition: "A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." A more-technical definition might be, "short stories that teach a moral or spiritual lesson by analogy or similarity." I think the point is the same either way. They are stories told to make a point, not as a narrative of a (necessarily) historical person or event.

In this verse, the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Prophet Hosea (II Peter 1:21), tells us that the prophecies of the Bible, at least in part, are parables. Just as one cannot take the parables of Jesus as literal, neither can you approach the parables of the prophets as literal.Of course, this is a generalization, and some discernment is necessary. Sometimes prophecies are literal, such as the prophecy of the coming of Cyrus, God's means of delivering Israel from her captivity in Babylon (Isaiah 44:28). But this verse from Hosea cuts down the date-setting and charts that are so popular among certain types of evangelical Christians. How does one discern which prophecies are, and which are not to be taken literally? Not by searching the newspaper for some obscure, incidental parallels, but by the analogy of faith, that is, by comparing scripture to scripture. Is the passage quoted in the New Testament? If so, how did Jesus and/or the Apostles interpret it? Is the image in it used in other Scriptures? How was it used? These latter two questions are especially important is understanding the Revelation of John. And, please, don't pull out the old canard of "double fulfillments" That dodge is never used by the Apostles! Rather, it is a fallback claim by someone who understands that a text doesn't teach his "system," but he wants to use it anyway. It is not a legitimate principle of hermeneutics.

6 comments:

Jim Stiles said...

Isaiah 7:13-14 probably had a double fulfillment. The first fulfillment was when his wife had a son named Immanuel. The second fulfillment was in the birth of Jesus.

Chris Cole said...

I don't believe in double fulfillments. In this case, look at to whom the prophecy is directed - not Isaiah, but to King Ahaz. His point is how low the House of David had fallen, but would rise again in the divine Son. This was to happen after the destruction of Syria by the Babylonians, which was to fall during the childhood, not of Immanuel, but of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, in verse 16.

Jim Stiles said...

OK, I see what you are saying.

Curt Knight said...

Jim & Chris, thanks for modeling relational intelligent conversation. I don't see that much. Thanks!
Chris, in your opinion, do you see double fulfillment, in general, as a byproduct of Progressive Dispensationalsim? (Futurist's move towards partial preterism?)

Curt Knight said...

Chris, in your opinion, do you see double fulfillment views as a natural outworking of Progressive Dispensationalism? (A move of Futurism towards Preterism, as Gentry has?)

Chris Cole said...

I don't know the answer to that, Curt.