"My heart I give Thee, Lord, eagerly and earnestly." - John Calvin
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.
My name is Chris Cole. I have lived in the Charlotte, NC, area for over thirty years, and have been an active Presbyterian during most of that time. I love the Westminster Confession of Faith as a beautiful expression of my own personal beliefs.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I prefer the English Standard Version of the Bible, and all quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise stated.
I have a number of reviews of Reformed books on Amazon. There is a link to them in the Reformed links below.
"Seeing [that] the Lord of lords, the Lord Jesus, is so ready (never was there king so ready to hear a subject as Jesus is), [even] if thou wert the vilest body that goes, a thief, a harlot, etc., yet if thou wilt say this, 'Lord, remember on me, and give me a part of thy kingdom'; - if thou prayest to him from a penitent heart, with confidence and assurance, I promise unto thee, heaven and earth shall go [fall] together ere thou wantest [lack] thine asking. Seeing [that] our Lord Jesus is so liberal [free-giving], then seek more than enough, more than a kingdom, and thou shalt get more. The only cause why we want [lack] is in us: we have no hearts to seek it." - Rev. Robert Rollock, Scottish Presbyterian minister, about 1590, in a commentary on Luke 23:42-43