More on the Enns/Green Controversy

I was directed by a friend to read Tremper Longman’s thoughts on the WTS situation, and the comments on his posts by various people, and my jaw just about hit the floor. There are an awful lot of people over there writing as if they know the entire situation, when all they have is one side of the story. Anger can be righteous, that is true (though I think it misplaced in this case). However, I wonder how many of those people, before they got all fired up over Green and Fantuzzo (both of whom I consider friends, by the way), actually bothered to see if there was going to be another side to the story published. Have they kept in mind also that the board may not be at liberty to discuss things done in executive session? Are there mitigating factors here of which they may not be aware? In these situations, it is quite often the case that there are details which would change the complexion of the picture entirely in the public eye, but which may never come to light for various reasons, maybe none of which are nefarious! There’s a lot of “shoot first, ask questions later” going on here. There’s also loads of assumptions and motive-reading present as well. They want a less heavy-handed approach to be extended to Green and Fantuzzo, but they are not willing to extend any courtesy or charity to those people they believe are being heavy-handed. Anyone for the Golden Rule, folks?

As to the theological picture, it seems that in the minds of many people on those threads, Jesus was wrong when He said that Moses wrote about Him (John 5). Certainly, those of Jewish extraction are not going to agree with Jesus at this point. Whom should we believe? It would be easy (through Holocaust guilt, maybe, or through other motives) to introduce man-fear into the picture here. I’m against anti-Semitism, don’t get me wrong. It is wrong to hate Jews. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them about the Old Testament! Is the Old Testament about Jesus or isn’t it? John 5 and Luke 24 say yes. The two-readings view says no and yes. And no, I am not flattening out the Old Testament at this point. There is a development and an unfolding. There are even some surprises. I’m okay saying that. But Jesus is still correct in John 5 and Luke 24 in saying that the Old Testament is about Him. The New Testament does not advocate a two-readings view, and Jesus never gave us any evidence that He did this. In all the instances in the New Testament where Jesus relates to the Old Testament, He makes a beeline straight to Himself. The Isaiah passage that Jesus reads in the synagogue is a good example. He doesn’t say, “Let’s do a first reading of this to make sure that the original context has nothing to do with me so that you can be really surprised when I read it the second time as being about Me!” He says flat out that He fulfilled that passage that day. He is saying that it was about Him all along. He doesn’t mention any other fulfillments.

I don’t see the apostles doing two readings of the Old Testament. I see the apostles saying that the Old Testament is about Jesus. They apply Old Testament language to Jesus and to the church as Christ’s body. I would challenge the two readings people to find one place in the entire New Testament where these two readings occur; one place where the apostles imply or say that the Old Testament wasn’t really about Jesus at all, but now that Jesus is here, we have to change the meaning of the Old Testament retroactively in order to make it fit. I just don’t see it.

Bernhardus de Moor, Volume 1 Available

It is with great delight and eager anticipation that I announce the publication of volume 1 of Bernhardus de Moor’s Continuous Commentary on Johannes a Marck’s Compendium. I should point out that the volume 1 of Dilday’s translation does not equal the entirety of volume 1 of de Moor’s work. My understanding is that it will take several volumes of Dilday’s translation to equal one volume of de Moor. Here are some things that Richard Muller says about this work:

De Moor’s efforts did for late Reformed orthodoxy what the massive system of Quenstedt did for Lutheranism in the concluding years of the seventeenth century: the work was so exhaustive and so complete in its detail and bibliography that it virtually ended the development of Reformed doctrine in the form of orthodox system (PRRD I.83)…De Moor’s work…provides evidence of the stubborn survival of theological orthodoxy, long after its era of dominance, into an otherwise rationalist era, without the loss of its scholastic balance on the issues of faith and reason, philosophy and theology, and without the loss of its scriptural principle (PRRD I.118)…massively erudite (PRRD I.146).

Tolle Lege.

Great Quotation on God’s Word

I was reading Douglas Kelly’s commentary on Revelation, and came across this wonderful quotation on God’s Word:

One old country preacher in North Carolina once said that the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, is the only sword that you can stick into a dead man, and he becomes a living man (p. 28).

Degreeism

When I was a witness for the prosecution in the Leithart case, one of the main ways that the defense sought to discredit my testimony was to attack my academic credibility. I didn’t have an advanced theological degree (apparently an M.Div. doesn’t count as an advanced theological degree, only Th.M.’s and Ph.D.’s would count). I just discovered that I am in good company. The best, in fact:

John 7:14-18 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” 16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. 18 “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him. (NKJV)

The people were grudgingly admitting that Jesus did know the law well. And this is what puzzled them, since He had not gone through standard rabbinical training. He didn’t have the proper academic credentials. Therefore, how could His testimony be true?

Listen to what Dr. (!) Sproul says about the passage: “After college, I went on to seminary, which brought a whole new level of difficulty. But probably the biggest academic adjustment in my life occurred when I enrolled in doctoral studies in the Netherlands. I had no idea how rigorous the academic discipline at that level would be. But as I completed my academic work, I realized that there were many of us who had been educated well beyond our intelligence. That is a problem with upper levels of education-once we get through them, we have a tendency to think we actually know far more than we do, and we have a tendency to tilt the nose a bit and look down at those who have not gone through such rigorous training. We put a lot of focus on people’s degrees and wonder whether their credentials are really credible” (St. Andrews Expositional Commentary on John, p. 134).

Indeed, this is true. On the one hand, such academic training has value (witness the benefit that most of the Reformed world has obtained through the scholarship of Dr. Sproul!). On the other hand, truth is not determined by such an academic degree. I know of many people who hold Ph.D.’s in theology who wouldn’t know what true scholarship was if it hit them on the nose. I know of many other people who have no Ph.D. at all, and yet produce amazing work. What matters is not the degree, but the work, and the actual quality of the work produced. Many of the most famous theologians in all history had no advanced degree. John Calvin had no advanced degree in theology. Neither did C.H. Spurgeon. Nor did any apostle except Paul. Folks, we forget our origin if we engage in degreeism. We make man big and God small. Scholarship has its value, and so does a Ph.D. have a value (I hope to obtain one myself at some point). However, God exercising His wisdom through the Holy Spirit is the best teacher of all. We would do well not to forget this. We will do well not to make an idol out of education or letters after people’s names.

A King James Only Debate

I just watched this whole debate this morning, and found it very interesting and informative (from both sides). I just wanted to comment on some things I saw there. For full disclosure, I am not a King James only advocate, although I greatly respect the KJV, and use it rather often.

First, I think that James White had the better arguments. He had answers for Moorman’s queries, and had several things that Moorman could not answer, the Revelation passage in particular. Why Moorman would not admit that the KJV should be revised on that verse when no Greek manuscript whatsoever reads the way the KJV does is beyond me. The KJV at that point doesn’t even agree with the TR (Textus Receptus) or the MT (Majority Text)!

There are some weak arguments on both sides that I want to point out. First, the argument from vocabulary against the KJV is weak, in my opinion. The KJV is not that hard to figure out. We have dictionaries to help with the odd words. Not to mention that there are words in most modern versions that we will have to explain anyway: words like “propitiation,” “expiation,” “sanctification,” “justification,” “baptism.” These are not words (even the last one!) that regular people use in conversation. On the other hand, the point that White made about style is very important. The New Testament was written in the common spoken language of the day. It wasn’t slang, but it wasn’t high style either. If KJV advocates argue that we ought to keep using the KJV because of the majesty of its style, this is mere sentimentality, and an attempt to improve on God’s Word.

Moorman’s argument about “coherence” was incredibly weak. I have read most of the NT in Greek now. It is coherent in the critical text. When we start arguing that theological doctrines are clearer in one text than in another, we are on very dangerous ground. Here’s why: it is very easy to understand why a scribe would add something to strengthen a doctrinal testimony. It is very difficult to understand why someone would take away a doctrinal testimony, unless one subscribes to conspiracy theories, which are notoriously hard to prove.

White is correct that pejorative words like “take away” or “delete” assumes that which must be proven. In a given variant which has to do with words being present or absent, there can be no prior judgment rendered on whether the words were originally there and later deleted, or were originally absent and later added. So Moorman’s statement about the critical text having fewer words than the TR doesn’t prove anything. Maybe the TR added something that was not originally there. One cannot make broadbrush comments about these things either. Each textual variant has its own ins and outs and must be decided on its own merits. By saying that the CT has fewer words, Moorman was assuming already the standard of the TR which was the very thing under discussion. It was circular, in other words.

Also, Moorman kept on hinting that the majority of manuscripts should rule. He never came out and said it, but he always emphasized the difference in number between the vast majority, which support the TR, versus the 50 which support the CT. In particular, Moorman emphasized that the CT was based almost exclusively on Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. This may have been true in the days of Westcott and Hort, but it is not true today. There are plenty of places where Sinaiticus and Vaticanus disagree with each other, and where the CT does not follow one or the other, or both. We have a lot more papyri than Westcott and Hort did, and so we have a larger basis for an early text.

White made a good point about the age of the texts: before the end of the first millenium, the majority text was Alexandrian in text type. Moorman trotted out the old canard about the provenance of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which White promptly kaboshed by noting the Arian heresy prominent in the Byzantine area, which was refuted by an Alexandrian by the name of Athanasius. Provenance does not govern the value of a manuscript. This would be the poisoned well argument, which is a logical fallacy.

To Moorman’s credit, he was not frothing at the mouth at modern versions, claiming that they were all Satanic, like some cultists do. The book linked is full of more factual errors per page than any other terrible book I have ever had the affliction to read. It once took me 15 pages to document the factual errors of quotation that Riplinger made in just 15 pages of her text. Moorman is quite a cut above that riffraff. He even admitted that major doctrines were intact in modern versions, even if he accused modern versions of running on fewer engines. The latter criticism, by the way, is the argument of the beard, another logical fallacy. It runs like this: how many hairs does it take to make a beard? If one defines a beard as 1000 hairs, then you immediately run into problems if someone says, “Isn’t 999 hairs a beard?” The problem is in the definition. For many KJV advocates who argue this way (which is not all of them), a doctrine is fully proved by 1,000 mentions of it in Scripture. And if the CT only mentions it 900 times, then it has weakened the testimony of that doctrine. Folks, this is not how we define our doctrine, and it is not how we speak of a doctrine as being proven from Scripture. White actually brought up a few Scriptures where the deity of the Son is actually more strongly supported in the modern versions than in the KJV (courtesy of Granville Sharp’s rule!).

Ultimately, there are many versions of the Bible that can be said to be God’s Word. If someone wants to use the KJV, go to it, I say. A person has God’s Word if they use the KJV. But so does someone who uses the ESV. Please don’t disenfranchise those of us who want to use the ESV, NASB, or even (shocker!) NKJV. Are there too many English translations out there? Absolutely. Let’s try giving some people of the world a translation of their own, instead of creating yet another niche English translation for the benefit of a publishing house’s royalty problems (as was pointed out very well in the debate).

Why Imputation Is Not a Legal Fiction

A very common objection from Roman Catholics against the Protestant doctrine of imputation is that God declares someone to be innocent who is not, in fact, innocent. This is legal nonsense, to them. They believe that God would never declare a person to be righteous who is not, in fact, righteous. So, the Protestant idea that an alien righteousness, that of Christ, is reckoned to the sinner, is nonsense to them. It would be God declaring something to be true which is actually false. So, how do Protestants respond to this? There are a variety of responses, but the best one, it seems to me, resides in the metaphor of marriage union. We will also add a few things afterwards that will help us understand.

In most marriages, property entails joint ownership. Now, if a woman comes into the marriage with a debt (like a college debt), the husband assumes that debt. It becomes their debt (it can also be described as his debt), even though the husband did not incur that debt. Similarly, whatever money the husband brought into the marriage doesn’t belong just to him anymore, it also belongs to her, even though she did not earn it. So, by virtue of the marriage union between husband and wife, the debts and the assets are transferred.

In a very similar way, when the believer becomes united to Christ by faith, a new legal situation results with transfers happening. I think a lot of the problems that Roman Catholics have over the Protestant doctrine is that sometimes Protestants formulate the alien righteousness imputation idea as though there were no other accompanying-but-distinct salvific benefits happening at all.

Now, let us be clear here. The Protestant doctrine should never be formulated in such a way that union with Christ, for instance, has an internal change happening in the believer that thereby becomes the basis for the imputation. Christ’s righteousness is the basis for the transfer, not anything that happens in the believer. It happens by the instrumentation of faith.

What the marriage union does accomplish in justification has to do with the legality of the transfer. The new legal status we have as being part of the bride of Christ (our being married to Christ) means that anything Christ transfers to us happens legally whether we deserve it or not.

There is, of course, another concomitant salvific benefit that has equal power to explain how it is that justification is not a legal fiction. This benefit works on a different level, but it is still quite effective in combating the “legal fiction” charge, and it is just as biblical. When the believer comes to faith in Christ, he is adopted as God’s child. Adoption also confers a new legal status, this time with more reference to the Father through Jesus (whereas the marriage happens between Christ and the church, adoption is more the Father’s action, though it certainly has reference to the Son and the Spirit of adoption). When God declares us His heirs, then there is no reason whatsoever that God can not transfer anything to us that originally belonged to His Son. It would be no more difficult than imagining a father changing his will.

One last distinction can help us here. There is a difference between being a sinner as opposed to what our legal status before the law is. With regard to being a sinner, we are always sinners until God takes away our sin nature in death. However, with regard to our legal status before the law, God’s declarative action makes us legally innocent, even though that declaration does not change our nature. So when Luther says simul justus et peccator (simultaneously just and a sinner), we are to understand that we are still sinners (though we have been changed in regeneration such that being a sinner is not all there is to say) in our being, and yet we are actually just in the view of the law. Our legal status has similarities to a criminal who is acquitted of a crime that he did in fact commit. He is in his being guilty, and yet in the eyes of the law, he is not guilty.

While Roman Catholics will certainly not agree with these formulations, nevertheless, I believe that the above does put to rest the rather old canard that Protestants believe in a legal fiction in the doctrine of imputation. Marriage and adoption create new legal situations where transfers are not only easily accomplished, but are in fact rather normal.

A Great Book for the Burned-Out Pastor

The author of this book is a pastor in the same Presbytery where I labor. He is the chairman of the shepherding committee in the Presbytery, and this book certainly helps explain why. Clay is a warm, pastoral man with a heart for hurting people. I heartily recommend this book to any pastors who are discouraged and beaten down with the routine or with crises in the ministry. This book is also a good antidote to the almost universal naivete afflicting good-hearted young men as they come out of seminary ready to fix all the world’s problems (if only the stupid world would listen to them!). Heck, I would even recommend it to pastors who are doing just fine, so that they stay that way!

Clay is certainly honest about his own journey, which makes the book all that much more interesting and compelling. The first five chapters are diagnosis, and the last five are solution. The diagnosis section is painful but healing to read. Chapter 3 comes to mind. Here are a few things that zapped me: “It’s as if God has been saying, ‘Clay, let my people go!'” (p. 51). “Yet we often want to press fast-forward on our ministry remote and make people mature faster and our churches grow quicker because we so desperately want these things now” (44). “Constant conflict made me seek comfort anywhere I could find it, especially in a quiet office with a closed door in the safety of reading books” (60). “Resurrection power may heal the hurt, or it may simply give us the strength to endure. Either way, resurrection power meets us in our weakness” (85). “[T]he love inside of our hearts can be padlocked, whereas our anger often has a hair trigger” (89). The book is well-designed to make a pastor feel really, really guilty, and then really, really forgiven in Christ.

I don’t have any quibbles with what he says. There are a few things that I would like to see in, say, a second edition of the book, or a “revised and expanded” edition (or a second book!). Of course, one can’t say everything in one book, and this is Clay’s first book. One question that nagged at me throughout the book was this: how do we pastors get this grace, when we are the ones “dishing it out”? I don’t mean that we are the source of grace, of course. But how do we get the benefit, for instance, of the Lord’s Supper and of the sermon, when we are the ones presenting those things to the congregation? This goes along with a parallel concern: I would like to have seen more emphasis on the means of grace, and how those factor in to relieve the burdened pastor. A second thing I would like to see addressed is the day off. How do we see our roles on Sunday? As work, or as our part in the worship services? And then, what do we do for a day off during the rest of the week? A third thing is coordinated with the last chapter. He has an admirable and biblical emphasis on pursuing unity (unity achieved is a great stress reliever!). What I would like to see is how that relates to the pursuit of truth and purity of the gospel. How do we avoid burnout, for instance, when we are fighting wolves in sheep’s clothing? What about the temptation to avoid conflict about gospel issues for the sake of our own comfort and avoiding burnout? What is the difference between pursuing our own comfort versus avoiding burnout? I would love to see these questions answered, if not by Clay, then by someone building on what Clay has done here.

This is a great little book. It doesn’t take long to read (and it is, by and large, well-written). It lays a great foundation for thinking about the ministry in a grace-driven way. It deserves a very wide readership by pastors of all stripes. Tolle lege.

Is Faith Itself Imputed as Our Righteousness?

Arminians and Roman Catholics will typically argue that Romans 4:5,9 are talking about faith itself as the thing that is imputed, thus avoiding imputation of an alien righteousness. They will translate it something like “faith is reckoned as righteousness.” Sometimes they will use the word “for” instead of “as” while understanding it of identity. There are three insuperable objections to this understanding of the passage. Here are the two verses (translation mine):

4:5 “To the one who does not work but rather believes in the One justifying the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.” 4:9 “Does this blessing, therefore, come to the circumcised only or also to the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.”

The first insuperable objection to understanding faith itself as the thing reckoned is the context, especially verses 3-5. It goes like this: if faith is righteousness (in the eyes of the law), then it is a work. Then works justify us, the very thing Paul explicitly denies in verses 3-5, where he contrasts faith and works, and makes a point of saying that it is NOT reckoned as a reward, but rather as of grace. If in the situation of justification, there is anything in us that is righteous as a basis for justification, then it is a reward, and not of grace. There is no way around this problem. Limiting the scope of the works so that they are boundary markers or ceremonial aspects of the law simply doesn’t fly at all. The contrast is between the one working and the one believing. That is a general contrast.

The second insuperable objection is the nature of faith itself, which has to be determined from the rest of Scripture. The Scriptures usually speak of faith as being in someone. Faith is really not a thing inside us. It is rather our connection to God, to Jesus Christ, to the Holy Spirit, to the Triune God. Faith derives its meaning and substance from the object of faith, not from faith itself. Otherwise, we are saved by faith in faith. Faith is rather our connection to God. The analogy I like to use goes like this: if a person is canning something, then he is faced with a situation of having to get jars out of boiling water. Obviously, he cannot use his hands to do so. Therefore, he must use something to grasp hold of the jars. There are tongs manufactured for just such a purpose. They wrap around the lip of the jar so that a person can lift the jar out without any mishap. Faith is like those tongs. Faith is not the jar with the good stuff in it. Faith lays hold of Christ and all His goodness. It connects us to Him. It is another way of saying our union with Christ which the Holy Spirit creates.

The third insuperable objection (and something that is absolutely fatal to Roman Catholic understandings of justification) is the phrase “justifier of the ungodly” in verse 5. Roman Catholic theology NEVER believes that God ever justifies an ungodly person. Nevertheless, in all the ways that count at the time of justification, Abraham was ungodly in his actions (remembering that faith is contrasted with works in verses 3-5). If faith itself is the righteousness, then God would be justifying the godly, not the ungodly. But Paul says here that God is justifying the ungodly. In a future post I will argue the case that this understanding is not a legal fiction.

Is Imputation Taught in Romans 4?

Nick, over at Creed Code Cult, has thrown down the gauntlet (thrown many times before, of course) that Romans does not teach the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. I don’t think I will get to all the things he addresses, but I do want to address Romans 4 in particular, since that is the clearest place where Paul does teach the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer.

But let’s summarize Nick’s argument first. He notes that David, in Psalm 32, does not speak about righteousness being imputed. Paul, in quoting Psalm 32, mentions it as a “counting for righteousness.” Therefore, according to Nick, forgiveness of sins is the equivalent of being regarded as righteous. In fact, Nick goes farther than that to claim that this is the “only coherent explanation.” He then adds a reductio ad absurdam argument: “Realizing this, it’s impossible to interpret ‘reckoning righteousness’ with the ‘Imputed Righteousness of Christ’ (as Protectants typically identify it), because then you’d have to say forgiveness of sins refers to Christ’s keeping of the law in our place, which makes little sense.” This is a very brief summary of Nick’s argument, but it will do to be getting on with.

There is another equally coherent explanation of the way that Paul quotes David that does much better justice to the context of the early part of Romans 4 (which Nick ignores), and it is this: Paul regards the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the forgiveness of sin (with the accompanying imputation of our sin to Christ) as so tightly coherent that they always come together. In other words, to say that one happens is to say that the other also happens, because they are the flip side of each other. Let’s see how Paul does that.

Paul asks the question of whether Abraham was justified by works. Leaving aside for a moment the much-vexed question of the scope of these works, we merely note at the moment that positive works that obey the law are certainly in view here, obviously not works for which Abraham would need forgiveness. This is proven by the introduction of the boasting motif in verse 2. One presumably does not boast of sin. As opposed to this method of being justified, Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith instead. The key phrase here is “eis dikaiosunen” (“for righteousness”). Faith itself is not a fulfillment of the law. The very nature of faith is that it lays hold on Someone Else. So faith itself cannot be the righteousness here mentioned. The “eis” is a telic preposition. Faith, in laying hold of Jesus Christ, lays hold of His righteousness. Let me be plain: the righteousness here spoken of cannot be Abraham’s righteousness. Otherwise, he would be tempted to boast (as per verse 2). Verse 2 also proves that the concept of “righteousness” as used here in the passage CANNOT refer merely to the forgiveness of sins, which is not something about which a person would even be tempted to boast. It is further proven by the case of Adam in the garden. Forgiveness of sins wipes the slate clean. Adam started with a clean slate. So why didn’t he pass immediately into glory? Because he had to prove himself vis-a-vis the command that the Lord had given him. He had to be actively righteous to God’s command to multiply, fill the earth, guard the garden from Satanic intruders and not eat of the tree. Neutrality does not equal the blessedness of David by itself. What Paul is saying is that David’s explicit mention of forgiveness as constituting blessedness is half the picture, and imputation is the always-accompanying other half of the picture. Paul is saying that we need a righteousness. We cannot get it by working, because then it wouldn’t be grace (as verse 4 says so clearly). Faith is the only way to get this righteousness.

As Calvin would say, we need two things in justification: forgiveness of sins and imputation of Christ’s righteousness. An analogy I’m fond of using is the gears of a car. Having one’s sins forgiven is like being taken out of reverse gear and put into neutral. Imputation is like being put into a forward gear. You need both of them to be headed in the right direction.

Lastly, I need to answer Nick’s reductio argument. Christ’s keeping of the law results in two very important facts for the believer. Firstly, it constitutes Christ the perfect Lamb, who can take away our sins (so, you see, Christ’s righteousness is VERY closely tied to the forgiveness of sins: if Christ was not the perfect Lamb, then He could not take away our sins, and He couldn’t die in our place). Secondly, He earned our way to heaven. Nick’s reductio fails because he leaves out the step of Christ’s righteousness constituting Him the perfect Lamb, and thereby achieving our forgiveness.

I will answer also his claim about the phrase “justified by His blood” being absurd to talk about the imputation of righteousness. As I have already noted (and what is a commonplace in Reformed treatments of justification), justification is not just about imputation, but also about forgiveness. Sometimes one aspect is more in view, sometimes the other. In 5:9, plainly forgiveness is more in view, since he is talking about being saved from wrath. Wrath is upon us due to sin, so when that sin is taken away from us, so is God’s wrath. That will do, to get the conversation started.

Literal Interpretation of Revelation?

I am currently preparing sermons on the book of Revelation. In reading through the commentaries, one finds much that is helpful, and much that is useless. An example of the latter category comes in Robert L. Thomas’s premillenial commentary. He says on p. 32:

The futurist approach to the book is the only one that grants sufficient recognition to the prophetic style of the book and a normal hermeneutical pattern of interpretation based on that style. It views the book as focusing on the last period(s) of world history and outlining the various events and their relationships to one another. This is the view that best accords with the principle of literal interpretation. The literal interpretation of Revelation is the one generally associated with the premillenial return of Christ and a view of inspiration that understands God to be the real author of every book of the Bible.

There are so many problems with this analysis that it is difficult to know where to start. First of all, he assumes that which must be proved in the first sentence. “Prophetic” must equal “future,” and therefore the futurist approach is the only possible approach that would sufficiently acknowledge the prophetic character of Revelation. He downplays apocalyptic features of the book elsewhere (the reason why is somewhat mystifying in its absence).

Secondly, his bifurcation of world history is extremely unhelpful. How could the book have been written to first-century Christians if the things described in Revelation have no relevance to the first century? Yes, Revelation is written to the entire church. That is why the events of Revelation happen all throughout history, having relevance to the entire church age between the first and second coming of Christ.

Thirdly, his view that only the literal interpretation of Revelation is consistent with a high view of inspiration is quite frankly ludicrous and offensive. According to Thomas’s view, God could not possibly reveal anything to us in a symbolic way without compromising inspiration. I might remind Thomas at this point of John 11, where the disciples take Jesus literally when He says that Lazarus has fallen asleep, and thereby misinterpret Jesus. Thomas might object at this point and say, “Ah, but John tells us that Jesus was speaking metaphorically.” To which I would reply that John does so again in Revelation 1:1, where the word “semaino” means to reveal by means of signs and symbols (see Beale’s commentary). Given that such a description is meant to describe Revelation as a whole, the default in interpreting Revelation must be symbolic, not literal.

To put this in a less abstract way, if I want to say that my wife is the most beautiful woman in the world, I could say it just like that. Such a statement would be objective, scientifically verifiable fact stated by a completely unbiased person. Well, maybe not, but it would be a very literal way of getting the point across. But I could say it another way, by quoting George Gordon, Lord Byron: “She walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.” Now, Robert Thomas, which of these statements is more true than the other? Having trouble with that? Well, of course you are! That something is true is a distinct question from how that truth is stated. Thomas does not understand this, and therefore equates literal interpretation with a high view of inspiration. One can have a very high view of inspiration (I believe, for instance, that every single word of Revelation is inspired by God and is utterly infallible) and yet interpret Revelation symbolically because it is a symbolic book.

The real fear, of course, is that a symbolic interpretation would give license to the interpreter to say whatever he wants to about the text. This is a genuine problem with those who have over-reacted to the literal folks. The solution is to recognize that there are brakes on symbolic interpretation. Those brakes are called “the rest of Scripture.” For Revelation in particular, the Old Testament functions as the source of almost all of the imagery. John is either explicitly alluding to the Old Testament or (maybe even unconsciously!) simply lives in the aura of the Old Testament. John is saturated with the Old Testament. It comes out his pores. This is not surprising, given that Revelation pulls all the threads of the Bible together and wraps everything up.

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