Friday, December 12, 2008

Millennial Temple Worship – Part 1

There is a great division among Bible teachers over the interpretation of Ezekiel chapters 40-48. As Dr. Feinberg points out, "Here amillennialists and premillennilists are poles apart. Moreover, neither camp is homogeneous in interpretation; there are many varieties of opinion within each school of thought." (Charles Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel, p. 233).

This division is primarily based on a presupposition of what is possible and what is not possible. Is it possible to have a future temple if God is through with the Old Covenant? Is it possible for God to institute sacrifice in a future period? These questions are at the heart of the interpretative war over this section of Scripture and Ezekiel’s temple.

For many Christians even the concept of a future Second Coming of the Messiah is out of the question! For these Christians the millennium is spiritualized and the promises made to Israel have been given to the Church. This set of articles will examine the Millennial Temple of Ezekiel and the worship described for that day. This article will examine the different interpretative ways that have been proposed for Ezekiel chapters 40-48, and expose the problem of pre-conceived doctrine that distorts the Word of God, changing what is plain into something subjective; what is literal into that which is spiritual.

The Interpretative Problem
Dr. Dyer summarizes the problem when he writes, "Three interpretations of chapters 40-43 are held by Bible students: (1) Ezekiel predicted a rebuilding of Solomon’s temple after the Babylonian Captivity. (2) Ezekiel was prophesying about the church in a figurative sense; he did not have a literal temple in mind. (3) A still-future literal temple will be built during the millennial kingdom." (Charles Dyer in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord & Zuck gen. ed., p. 1303).

The problem addressed here has to do with the interpretative method. The possibility of a future sacrificial system is not allowed for some, so they create an interpretative method that removes the perceived problem. "The figurative or ‘spiritualizing’ interpretative approach does not seem to solve any of the problems of Ezekiel 40-48; rather it tends to create new ones. When the interpreter abandons a normal grammatical-historical hermeneutic because the passage does not seem to make sense and opts for an interpretative procedure by which he can allegorize, symbolize, or ‘spiritualize,’ the interpretations become subjective. Different aspects of a passage mean whatever the interpreter desires." (Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 943).

The Scripture Outlined
Ezekiel was a priest, himself a son of a priest (son of Buzi; 1:3), who was taken captive with Jehoiachin in 597 B.C. As such Ezekiel is said to have been both a priest and a prophet. Though the priestly work was not allowed during their Babylonian captivity, the priests managed to continue their teaching aspect of the office. It is then no mistake that Ezekiel teaches both individual and corporate responsibility for sin before God (Chapters 18 & 23). It was after all the failure of the priests, their past defilement and disobedience that led to their exile in Babylon. Ezekiel reiterates that an individual’s behavior is connected to how one approaches God in worship. Insincere worship leads to immoral behavior and judgment, whereas proper worship leads to moral behavior and blessing.

It is from Ezekiel 34 and Psalms 23 that the good shepherd of John 10 comes from. As such Ezekiel tells the nation that the Messiah Himself will return and teach from a new temple. God gives Ezekiel the vision of bayith Yisra’el ("house of Israel"), measuring every detail of the house. The house is an equivalent term for the temple in this context. Ezekiel details in these chapters the Millennial Temple (chaps. 40-43), millennial worship (chaps. 44-46), and the millennial land division (chapters. 47-48). (Merril Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 1581). These final chapters are not stand-alone; the whole of the book is presented chronologically. In fact, the temple is prominent in this book. Notice what the great Hebrew scholar Dr. Alexander says:

In order to determine the general time-frame of these chapters, they will be examined in light of the development and flow of Ezekiel’s argument in the entire book. He has shown the presence of God’s glory in the historical Jerusalem temple and its departure from the temple because of Israel’s sin of breaking the Mosaic covenant. The Fall of Jerusalem and the Captivity in Babylon were the consequence (chs. 4-24). After declaring how the nations would also be judged (25:1-33:20), Ezekiel encouraged the Jewish captives through six night messages of hope (33:21-39:29). In these he informed them that the Messiah would restore them to their Promised Land in the future and become a true shepherd to them. They would be cleansed and all their covenants would be fulfilled. Even in the end times, after the land prospers and Israel dwells securely in it, some will try to take the Promised Land away from Israel and profane the Lord’s name; but the Lord will not permit it (chs. 38-39). It would seem logical, therefore, that Ezekiel would conclude the logical and chronological development of his prophecy by describing the messianic kingdom and the return of God’s glory to govern his people (chs. 40-48)…" (Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 943-944)

As can be seen by this overview, I have used commentators that have taken a literal-grammatical historical approach. A literal Millennial Temple unfortunately is not accepted within the non-futurist camp.

Critical Objections
Gleason Archer’s excellent book A Survey of the Old Testament Introduction reports the following summary:

As recently as the eighth edition of Driver’s ILOT, the genuineness of Ezekiel had been accepted as completely authentic by the majority of rationalist critics. But in 1924 Gustav Hoelscher advanced the thesis that only a small fraction of the book was by the historical sixth-century Ezekiel (i.e., only 143 verses out of 1273) and the rest came from some later author living in Jerusalem and contemporaneous with Nehemiah (440-430 B.C.). In 1930 Professor C.C. Torrey published a discussion of his view that no part of Ezekiel came from the sixth century, or even from the two centuries succeeding. He dated the earliest stratum of the book of Ezekiel at 230 B.C. and deduced that it was written in Jerusalem rather than Babylonia. Not long afterward it was reedited by a redactor who gave it the appearance of having been written in Babylonia by one of the Captivity. It should be mentioned that Torrey did not believe in the historicity of the Chaldean destruction of Judah or the removal of the Jewish population to Babylonia in any sort of national captivity. (Gleason Archer, A Survey of the Old Testament Introduction, pp. 410-412)

Among the many arguments why the critical scholars reject Ezekiel authorship is in fact the perceived problem of the fulfillment of Ezekiel 40-48. Archer explains, "These chapters contain a long and detailed series of predictions of what the future Palestine is to be like, with its city and temple. To an open-minded reader, it is safe to say the predictions of these nine chapters give the appearance of being as literally intended as those contained in the earlier part of the book (e.g., the judgments upon Tyre and Sidon in 26-28, which found literal fulfillment in subsequent history). The question is whether the plans set forth in chapters 40-48 are ever to be realized. If no temple is ever going to be erected in accordance with these specifications, and if there is to be no such holy city as the prophet describes, and if there is to be no such apportionment of the land among the twelve tribes as he indicates, we are faced with a portion of Scripture containing false prophecy." (Gleason Archer, p. 415).

What Dr. Archer is saying is that the only way to avoid such a conclusion, according to some interpreters, is to take all these provisions as intended to be figurative. They say these chapters should be understood as referring to the New Testament church, the spiritual Jerusalem! And so they interpret it that way.

Unger identifies the following three points of view concerning Ezekiel’s millennial temple: "(1) Ezekiel’s prophecy was merely to preserve the memory of Solomon’s Temple and to portray what should have been put into effect upon the return from Babylon. (2) It sets forth the kingdom of God in its final form (C.F. Keil). (3) It is a symbolic description of the Christian church in its earthly glory and blessing (Luther, Calvin, Cappellus, Cocceius, and the majority of modern scholars)." (Merrill Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 1581).

Numerous problems exist for the interpreter. For example, how would the regulations for blood sacrifice which appear in these chapters fit into the post-Calvary economy of salvation? The criticism is actually levied on the literalist but, as W. Kelly puts it, "Now the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, bring to light for the glorious day an earthly temple with sacrifices, priesthood, and rites appropriate to it. No doubt it is not Christianity; but who with such an array of inspired witnesses against him [cf. Is 2:2-3; 56:7; 60:7; Hag. 2:6-7; Zech. 6:12, 15], will dare to say that such a state of things will not be according to the truth, and for the glory of God in that day" (Unger, p. 1582). The temple vision is specific to Israel and concerns the regenerated seed of Abraham by natural birth to which God made certain covenants and promises.

John writes in Revelation 21:22, "But I saw no temple in it [the new heavens and earth], for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." So, how can there be a millennial temple? The answer is simple, chapter 21 of Revelation begins the "new heaven and new earth" and not the millennial kingdom. The millennial kingdom is Jewish in nature, whereas in the new heaven and earth there will be no temple - all things will be new. Prophecy will have been completely fulfilled.

Types of Temples in Scripture
The Scriptures do speak of temples being other than a literal structure. In fact, the first reference is that of the tabernacle which is called "the temple of the Lord" (1 Sam. 1:9). Then there is the temple which replaced the tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple that was destroyed on the 9th of Av. Next there was Zerubbabel’s Temple, which was rebuilt and expanded by Herod and hence called Herod’s Temple which was also destroyed on the 9th of Av, and finally, pagan temples. In addition, there is the non building usage of the temple; (1) Jesus Christ as a temple (John 2:19-22); (2) Believer bodies are called a temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19); (3) the Church as a temple (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21-22; Heb. 3:6); and (4) Heaven is called a temple (Rev. 16:17). The temple is the dwelling place of God whether it is in a tent, a house, or a believer.

As can be seen from these references the word refers to the place where God dwells. While the tabernacle had a symbolic meaning in the Mosaic covenant it is more typological than symbolical. "These meanings are recognized in later revelation. Isaiah 7:14, as interpreted by Matthew 1:23, revealed that the name Messiah would be Immanuel, ‘God with us.’ The essential purpose of the tabernacle, therefore, would be realized in the person and work of Jesus. The apostle John captured this truth as he described Jesus’ life with the word skenoo, ‘to tabernacle’ or ‘to pitch a tent’ – ‘And the Word became flesh, and dwelt (tabernacled) among us: (1:14).’" (Mal Couch, gen.ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, p. 402). The word Temple may also be translated sanctuary, a term inclusive of God’s dwelling in all its forms.

The premillennial Dispensationalist also sees two additional literal temples in Scripture, the Tribulation Temple (2 Thes. 2:4; Rev. 11:1-2), and the Millennial Temple (Ezek. 40-48; Hag. 2:6-9). These temples are literal and serve the purpose of sacrifice and worship during these periods.

The Use of Symbolism
Ezekiel uses more symbolism than any other Old Testament prophet. "His figures of speech are not dependent on heathen sources but have their foundation in the sanctuary of Israel and in the concepts of his predecessors, educated as he was under Levitical training." (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, p. 581). In fact the whole of the book is said to be for the most part in chronological order and are usually replete with chronological and historical data (Eugene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p. 482). This historical data cannot and should not be taken allegorically.

Ramm points out that with any symbol there are two elements:

First is the idea which is mental and conceptual, and second the image which represents it. In a given culture these ideas and images are kept close together through the familiarity of constant usage (Bernard Ramm, p. 233). He points out the following guidelines:

"1. Those symbols interpreted by the Scriptures are the foundation for all further studies in symbolism. When the Scripture interprets a symbol then we are on sure ground.... 2. If the symbol is not interpreted we suggest the following: (i) Investigate the context thoroughly. It might be that in what is said before or after, the idea corresponding to the symbol is revealed. (ii) By means of a concordance check other passages which use the same symbol and see if such cross references will give the clue. (iii) Sometimes the nature of the symbol is a clue to its meaning (although the temptation to read the meaning of our culture into these symbols must be resisted). ....(iv) Sometimes comparative studies of Semitic culture reveal the meaning of the symbol....3. Be aware of double imagery in symbols. There is nothing in the symbolism of the Bible which demands that each symbol have one and only one meaning." (Ramm, p. 234).

With this as a guide it is clear that the temple of Ezekiel is clearly a literal temple because elsewhere in Scripture when the temple is measured, the temple is literal. There is no mysterious symbol that needs to be interpreted. There is not another way to interpret the exact dimensions of the wall, the details of the construction in any other way but literal! When the Lord defines exactly what the measurement is, "the cubit is one cubit and a hand-breadth" (Ezek. 43:13), so exact is the physical measuring standard, one has to take it literal. When the Lord tells Ezekiel to write it down so that Israel might keep its "whole design and all its ordinances" for them to "perform them" (43:11), then, this must be literal.

Paul Lee Tan in his book The Interpretation of Prophecy details the following for interpreting symbols, "Many interpreters err in seeing an inordinate amount of symbolism in Bible prophecy. For this reason, the interpreter should be conversant with the various situations under which symbols do not and cannot possibly exist. These situations are as follows: (1). When the ‘symbol’ involves things possible. – The prophetic Scriptures contain many descriptions of the future which are possible or plausible. In such instances, the interpreter should not assign these to the realm of symbolism...(2). When details superfluous to the ‘symbol’ are given. – When a ‘symbol’ is found, the interpreter must test his discovery by asking whether it contains details unnecessary and incidental to the intended symbolism. If so, its symbolism should be denied and its non-symbolical character affirmed. The prophecy of the 144,000 in Revelation 7 contains so many incidental details, such as the genealogies, tribal names, and subdivided memberships of that group, that it cannot possibly be a symbol... (3) When the symbol separates from itself. – When handling symbols, the interpreter must accept no symbol that is found separated or apart from itself. Every symbol must behave as a composite unit and not be seen in action separated or apart from itself." (Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Dallas:Bible Communication, Inc., 1994), p.p. 159-161).

With these common sense guidelines, Dr. Tan says, "Perhaps the best illustration of the rule of the "no superfluous details" is found in Ezekiel’s prophecy of the Millennial Temple (Ezek. 40-48). Non-literal interpreters maintain that this prophecy is a symbol of the Christian Church. However, this major prophecy in the Book of Ezekiel contains descriptions, specifications, and measurements of the millennial temple which are so exhaustive that one may actually make a sketch of it, just as one might of Solomon’s historic temple"( Paul Tan, p. 161).

Ezekiel’s Literal Temple
There are several observations that establish Ezekiel’s temple as literal in space and millennial in time.

Ezekiel’s literal temple is literally anticipated.

The Lord God tells Ezekiel to write down the dimensions so that Israel may observe the prescribed ordinances (43:10). The physical measurements are provided for the altar and its placement is described (43:13-16). The Lord God anticipates the ordinances for the consecrating of the alter to be performed in some future day "when it is made" (43:18). Literal sacrifices will be performed in accordance with the Lord’s command (43:18-27). It appears the temple is primarily for the purpose of the Jews (44:6-9).

Ezekiel’s temple and Israel’s physical blessing prophecy are to be literally completed.
The Lord God describes Jewish temple worship that is uniquely future. The method of service was not practiced by the returning exiles, or in the time of Christ. Yet Ezekiel describes (a) restored Israel (39:27); (b) a holy temple; (c) the Lord’s glory will return to the sanctuary forever (43:7); (d) the temple is the place of His throne and the soles of His feet (43:7); (e) the land divided for each tribe (45:1; 47:13-48:35); (f) a holy city (Jerusalem) (45:6; 48:35); (g) a section of the city for the prince (David) (45:7; 48:21); (h) Israel’s princes will no longer oppress Israel (45:8); (i) honest dealings in offerings restored (45:9-15); (j) the prince shall himself prepare the offerings on appointed days for the house of Israel (45:17); (k) living water flowing out of the temple toward the east (47:1-9); trees which line the river of life will continuously produce fruit (47:12). These point to a future period of time called the Millennium.

Dr. Couch points out, "The difference between dispensational theology and reformed theology is largely reflected in their approaches to interpreting eschatological literature. Dispensational theology consistently applies a literal hermeneutic to the eschatological and non-eschatological books of the Bible. Reformed theology frequently employs the allegorical or spiritualizing method of biblical interpretation when it comes to interpreting prophetic passages of the Bible. For example, with an allegorical interpretation, Israel does not have to mean the nation Israel. It could mean the church.... The Reformed view rejects the idea of there being a physical temple building in Ezekiel 40-48. Instead, they maintain that it refers to the universal church. Allegorizing the text in this way dismisses the common, ordinary meaning of words as they were understood in their historical context" (Mal Couch, gen. ed., An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, p. 300).

It has been said by the non-literalist that Ezekiel’s Millennial Temple of Ezek. 40-48 is symbolic and should not be interpreted literally. Even quoting Rev. 21:22, in claiming that the future will contain no temple. It has been presented that Revelation 21 starts the "new heavens and new earth" section of Scripture. The millennial [kingdom] temple is detailed by Ezekiel because there really will be a future temple in the Davidic kingdom. One can even go out and build in great detail this millennial temple. The physical dimensions are in such detail that it describes a literal structure. No one should take it any other way except as literal. Ezekiel was a priest before the captivity, and God used him to describe the detailed Jewish worship in the Davidic millennial kingdom. The requirement for a memorial sacrifice is realistic in Scripture and so must be taken as a literal sacrifice. In Scripture, the physical building called the temple is always the temple! Ezekiel details the priestly service of the millennial temple which can be taken only as literal since some of the priestly services violates the Levetical law. In the next article that temple and its service will be examined in detail.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sun Darkened and Moon turned to Blood - Part 3

The last article described God's sovereign act of creation, control and sustaining of the sun, moon and stars. When God has come to the conclusion of His plan of the earth, He will change the sun, moon and stars, using them as "signs" and judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth. Then, He will remove them since He will provide the illumination upon the earth. In this final article these objects will be examined as they are used in the metaphorical since. But first we must examine the claim by some that they are used as "dramatic hyperbole."

Figures of speech, metaphors and hyperboleWhen an object is used as a metaphor, there is some distinguishing characteristic that that stands out about the object that the author intends to bring out in comparing another object to it. When one thinks of the sun, there are several characteristics that immediately stand out that can be used. The sun's enduring heat is one of these characteristics, so the metaphor of endurance and strength (Ps. 72:5, 17; 89:36). And the sun's light provides a metaphor of an unveiling (e.g. Num. 25:4; Judges 5:31; 2 Sam 12:11, 12; Ecc. 2:17; Matt. 5:45; 13:43).

Metaphor The term metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making a comparison. One example of a metaphor is Isaiah 40:6 "All flesh is grass." This is immediately identified as a metaphor for two reasons: (1) flesh is not grass; and (2) context.

6 A voice says, "Call out." Then he answered, "What shall I call out?" All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

What characteristic of the flesh is like grass – it fades, that is, it grows old, dies and no longer exists in the living world. It fades away, if you will, from the minds of the living. The word of the Lord however, stands firm forever!

A simile is also a comparison of one object to another and uses the words "as," or "like." Peter uses a simile when he writes, "All men are like grass" (1 Pet. 1:24). This is the same as our Isaiah 40:6 text, except Peter is using Greek so he uses the adverb "as," or "like."

Another method used is the allegory, which means "to speak in a figure." Paul says that Abraham's two sons are an allegory. One born of a bondwoman [Hagar], and hence, is of the flesh, and the other born of the freewoman, he calls of the promise (Gal. 4:21-31). The allegory is clearly explained. Biblical allegory will almost always be explained by the author just as Paul did. Notice this is different from the technique of allegorical interpretation which seeks to find deeper meaning behind the text. The one is clearly explained, while the other is lost in a gnostic sphere where multiple interpreters explain the same text differently and neither has ground to stand.

Another technique that has been talked about is hyperbole. Hyperbole is a figure of speech where exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect. The word comes from the Greek compound meaning literally " to excessively throw." For example, in John 21:25 "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:8, "You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you."

Examples of the Sun and Moon Used as Metaphor
There are times when the sun and moon are used metaphorically, but it is the purpose of some allegorists to make any unfulfilled prophecy an allegory but leave fulfilled prophecy literal – an inconsistent way of reading. Dr. Gentry lists several areas where he claims an allegorical use of the sun and moon is used. He provides the following examples as "apocalyptic language" and as a "dramatic way of expressing national calamity or victory in battle:" Judges 4-5; Isaiah 13:10; 13; Ezek. 32:2, 7-8; Jer. 4:11, 23-24, 29; Joel 2:1, 10. His claim of "dramatic hyperbole," and "apocalyptic language," provides him license to change what the author intends into some perversion. It may sound good, tickle the ears, but the intent of the author is replaced with the intentions of the expositor.

I will first examine Dr. Gentry's claims, then cover the verses that use sun and moon metaphorically.

Judges 4-5
13 Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 Deborah said to Barak, "Arise! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the LORD has gone out before you." So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left. 17 Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. (Judges 4:13-17)

3 Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I—to the LORD, I will sing, I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel. 4 LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. 5 The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel. (Judges 5:3-5)

Judges 4-5 does not use the sun and moon at all. This section of scripture is cites to illustrate the use of figurative language. The point of 5:4-5 is that when the army of ten thousand men (4:6; 10), and nine hundred chariots of iron (4:13) came together in battle the earth quaked (ra'ash, "to quake," "shake") - as one would expect of a great battle as the great thunderous sound waves pound the earth. The heavens poured, and the clouds poured water (as in a great storm that quickly overtakes in violence and blood), and the mountains gushed (nazal, "to flow") as the Canaanite army left their chariots and fled down the mountain on foot.

The Hebrew army killed them as they fled down the mountain, as the Hebrew play on words using "flow" with "to fall," is used. The Canaanite army fell (naphal, "to fall") by the edge of the sword (5:4-5). The picture drawn is of the massive Hebrew army, so numerous that there marching made a great sound, which could be heard throughout the land- shaking the earth. The sound was so great that the Canaanite army with their battle chariots, stopped their horse drawn chariots, abandoned them, and fled down the hill on foot. Just as a gushing rain that flows down the mountain, so the fleeing Canaanites and perusing Hebrew army came down the mountain and upon the Canaanites and they fell by the sword. It sounds like a violent storm. Is this a violent storm or judgment upon the Cannanite? This is a real battle which results with the conclusion of the storm in death for the Cannanites and victory for the Hebrews.

A normal reading relates the great battle using figurative language, the picture that is drawn makes it clear what the figure of speech relates to. The context and the complete story make the language clear. One does not have to go outside the text to other sections to understand the story. And what a story it is! God is glorified and sovereign in the affairs of His people. However, the story is literal and the metaphors point to a real event. In fact, the figure is a repeat of the figure used in Psalm 68:7-9 and the great victory at the presence of God.

Isaiah 13:10
Isaiah thirteen provides an oracle (massa', "load," "bearing," "lifting," burden," utterance," "oracle") of Babylon (Babel or Babylon). The oracle marks the starts a major section of the book that deals with the Lord's judgments against:

  • Babylon and Assyria (13:1-14:27)
  • Philistia (14:28-32)
  • Moab (15:1-16:14)
  • Damascus and Israel (17:1-14)
  • Ethiopia and beyond (18:1-7)
  • Egypt (19:1-20:6)
  • Babylon (21:1-10); Edom (21:11-12); Arabia (21:13-17)
  • Jerusalem (22:1-25)
  • Tyre (23:1-18)

This section provides a set of judgments against the nations listed above. Throughout this long section there are some nations with both a near and far prophecy. Babylon is one that has both a far judgment described first then the specific near judgment brought by the Meads. There are several things that demand a literal meaning for the following verses:

Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light (Isaiah 13:8-10) .

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger (Isaiah 13:13).

What is the extent? (a) Destroy the whole land (13:5); (b) Punish the world (13:11); (c) the kingdoms of nations are gathered together (13:4).

Why? (a) He will punish the world for its evil (13:11); (b) Halt the arrogance of the proud (13:11).

How? (a) His angles will be gathered for battle (13:4); (b) All hands will be limp (13:7); (c) Every man's heart will melt (13:7); (d) He will destroy sinners from the land (13:9); (e) The sun, moon and stars will not give out light (13:10); (f) He will shake the heavens and the earth will shake from her place, or as some translate, move out of her place (13:13).

This is truly a physical event because: (a) there are no figurative identifiers "like," "as" used; (b) the context provides no secondary reference which might point to something other than its first meaning; and (c) the context provides the sense that the sun "will not give out its light" in a real historical sense (i.e., there is no immediate spiritual contextual link such as Israel left in spiritual darkness, etc); and (d) the earth is described as moving out of it normal place.

This last event should not be taken lightly, this will be a drastic change, as drastic as change possibly as that which changed in the days before the flood, verses after the flood. Before the flood an moderate climate, after the flood a realization of the full seasons.

But an additional reason for placing this section (13:2-16) in the future Great Tribulation with literal physical events is that God Himself "will cause to shake" (ragaz, "tremble," "disturb," "move") the heavens and the earth will shake (ra'ash, "quake," "shake"). This is similar to Matthew 24: 29. In addition, this section describes "the kingdoms of nations gathered together" (13:4). A new section starts with verse 17 dealing with the "Medes" and involves "the proud" (v. 11). The proud, not the world, because the "world" is feminine, whereas the "proud" is masculine and the pronouns "them" match in gender with the proud not the world. The proud, because that is the characteristic common with the Babylonians and the end time nations (cf. 13:19).

Ezekiel 32:2
Son of man, take up a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him
, 'You compared yourself to a young lion of the nations, Yet you are like the monster in the seas; And you burst forth in your rivers and muddied the waters with your feet and fouled their rivers.' (Ezekiel 32:2)

This is classic simile using the words "you compared yourself," and "you are like." There is no mistaking that a likeness will result and comparative language will follow. So the Lord finishes the figurative picture in verses three through eight:

Thus says the Lord GOD, "Now I will spread My net over you With a company of many peoples, And they shall lift you up in My net. I will leave you on the land; I will cast you on the open field. And I will cause all the birds of the heavens to dwell on you, And I will satisfy the beasts of the whole earth with you. I will lay your flesh on the mountains And fill the valleys with your refuse. I will also make the land drink the discharge of your blood As far as the mountains, And the ravines will be full of you. And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud And the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you And will set darkness on your land," Declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 32:3-8)

This is clearly a picture of a great battle. Not, as the allegorist claims, but rather, the thing pictured has a literal aspect: (a) I will spread My net over you; the fishing net spread over Egypt is a large company of men who will draw them up (v. 3) – a literal army (Babylonian Army); (b) I will leave you on the land; they will be left on the land (the picture is that of fish laid out on dry land – helpless and dead) as food for the birds and beast (v. 4); (c) I will lay your flesh on the mountains, the dead carcasses of the Egyptians will fill the land – a literal multitude of dead bodies will cover the land (v. 5); (d) I will water the land with the flow of your blood – a literal flow of Egyptian blood will be on the land (v. 6); (e) I will put out your light. A literal result and finale that God will cover the heavens and "sun with a cloud" – a literal cloud possibly from the great battle, a cloud of fire and smoke. A cloud so thick it literally "brings darkness upon the land" (v .8).

"I will put out your light" (literally, I will intensely quench or put you out) is literal. At times the phrase "I will put out your light" is used as a metaphor for death, but here it is clearly not. The sun will be covered resulting in the moon not giving her light and the stars of heaven will be dark - a literal event. There is no figurative use of sun, moon and stars here!

Jeremiah 4:11, 23-24, 29
In that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem, "A scorching wind from the bare heights in the wilderness in the direction of the daughter of My people—not to winnow and not to cleanse, a wind too strong for this—will come at My command; now I will also pronounce judgments against them Behold, he goes up like clouds, And his chariots like the whirlwind; His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are ruined! (Jeremiah 4:11-13).

It is clear from these two verses that the "dry wind" of verse 11 is not a literal wind, but a storm of judgment. Context and simile defines the what the cloud is. Verse 13 describes the invading army as "clouds" and the chariots as a "whirlwind." The Lord describes their condition as a result of the storm as "plundered" (v. 13). This is classic metaphor usage as the word "like" is used forming the simile. There is no mistaking what the storm represents.

The total destruction described in verses 23 through 26 is a picture drawn that Jeremiah's beloved city Jerusalem was a wasteland (tohu, "formless," "vain," "wasteland," from an unused root meaning to lie waste). It was empty (bohu, "emptiness," "void," "waste," from an unused root meaning to be empty) and they had no light (both the heavens and the earth). The meaning implied is that the burning smoke and dust has blackened out the sun.

Jeremiah looked to the mountains and they trembled (ra'ash, "to quake," "shake," this is a participle so it might better be translated "I saw the mountains, and behold, the ones quaking and all the hills were themselves caused to shake"). A picture either of a quaking caused by an earthquake or more likely a description of the large Babylonian army moving from the destroyed city through the mountains to the next city. The massive army makes a great thundering sound whose sound waves shake the earth.

With Jerusalem destroyed, Jeremiah saw no people left in the city (v. 25) and there were no birds in the sky as the loud battle moved them out of the area to safety. He looked and there were no more orchards in the field, they had been trampled down and burned (v. 26). All the cities of Judah had been broken down.

The sun, moon and stars were not mentioned here, and the darkening of the sky is literal. There is no indication that the darkening is an exaggeration (hyperbole), it is a simile.

Joel 2:1, 10In Joel, the context is a unique "last days" called the "day of the Lord." This is a unique day of wrath whose army "the likes of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them" (Joel 2:2). The use of metaphors fills this section as the author's poetic style and literary greatness leaves the reader in awe of the Word of the Lord.

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the day of the LORD is coming; Surely it is near,

2 A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations.(Joel 2:1-2)

10 Before them the earth quakes, The heavens tremble, The sun and the moon grow dark And the stars lose their brightness. 11 The LORD utters His voice before His army; Surely His camp is very great, For strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome, And who can endure it?(Joel 2:10-11)

The description of the day of the Lord is "darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn in spread over the mountains," describes a great battle. Hebrew is a pictorial language and God's use of the language, using metaphors and similes, makes the Bible – His Word, a masterful, wonderful work. This is classic simile as the word "as" (v. 2) relates. Verses 2 though 11 are an unbreakable section. These verses contain imagery of a great army's invasion upon the land of Israel. The army is described as devouring fire (vv. 3, 5), swift horses (v. 4), noise like chariots (v. 5), mighty men (v. 7). The section might be summarized as follows: (a) introductory picture set (v. 2); (b) similes drawn (v. 3-5); (c) invading army's characteristics (vv. 6-9), and (d) picture's completion.

The concluding picture's completion fills in the last brush strokes to the masterpiece. The conclusion completes the similes presented in part two (vv. 3-5). Namely. the "earth quakes before them, and the heavens tremble" relates to both the chariots and devouring fire's noise (v. 5). The "sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness," reflect the result of the dust and fire that fill the air in the greatest battle that will ever be (v.2). The focus here is upon the great battle and its result.

What the Critic Leaves Out
What the critic leaves out is Joel 2:28-32 because here the sun and moon's darkening is clearly do to literal "wonders in the heavens" (v. 31). This is the section that Peter quotes in Acts 2: 17:21. Joel writes:

28 And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. 30 "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. 32 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls. (Joel 2:28-31)

Joel identifies the signs and wonders in both the heavens and the earth. In Acts, Peter recognized the literal signs and wonders (2:12, 43), though not all the signs and wonders that Peter pointed out were present on that day. What must be identified are the signs and wonders presented in Acts two. What Peter points out as signs and wonders are: (1) your sons and daughters shall prophesy; (2) your young men shall see visions; (3) your old men shall dream dreams; (4) wonders in the sky above: (a) the sun shall turn into darkness; (b) moon into blood; (5) signs on the earth beneath: (a) blood; (b) fire; (c) vapor of smoke.

The phrase sun shall be turned into darkness (choshek, "darkness," "obscurity") is not one of the many words for darkness meaning, "setting of the sun," " dark saying," "a binding," "a dulling," "a cover," "thickness," or " dirty." This word has the idea darkness that is "unknown" or "obscure." The sun will turn from its normal bright self into something different, obscure. Likewise, "moon into blood" (dam, "blood," "color red") has as its root "to be red." The moon's color will change from its normal white to a reddish color.

The adherents of a non-literal hermeneutic have to "spiritualize" the cataclysmic events of this prophecy. What is the result of their spiritualization? Dr. Couch notes: "The national promises to Israel are reduced to spiritual fulfillment in the church. And the cosmic signs and wonders predicted by Joel (2:30-31) and quoted by Peter (Acts 2:19-20) must be allegorized. They did not occur at Pentecost, so they must be taken figuratively." (Mal Couch, A Bible Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, p. 146) . In other words, God throws away all His promises to Israel, the Church replaces Israel, and all the cosmic signs are just hyperbole describing some battle that never took place in the land.

The argument that the day Jesus was crucified the "sun was darkened" (Luke 23:45) can be brought to the table, but where is the "moon turned to blood?" Some argue that the phrase "moon turned to blood" and "blood and fire and vapor of smoke" is a battle reference that was fulfilled in 70 A.D when the Romans came against the Jews. But where is the judgment on the nations and the resulting peace for the all Jews. The nations were not judged in the "valley of Jehoshaphat" nor did the Jew find rest as a result of 70 A.D., in fact the Jew has only found grief. The Jew had not returned to the land that God had given them until 1948, and since then has experienced only pain.

Sun and Moon as Figures
As with all things that God has created, language is another object to be marveled. Hebrew is what is called a pictorial language, meaning that it is rich in imagery. The nouns are usually derived from verbs, which describe some characteristic of the noun. For example, the word Adam comes from the word "to be red" reflecting where he originated from, namely, the ground. This makes the language a natural medium for creative metaphor usage. So, with the Bible being "God breathed" we possess the recorded, inspired word of God. A text where He uses human authors to record and convey what He has determined mankind to know. What this means to us is that what is observed in both the Hebrew and the Greek, is a rich creative literary text possessing both narrative and poetry intermingled. The reader's understanding and ability to follow what is being said makes this book truly the best literary work ever.

Along with the creative nature of our Creator in the doctrine of inspiration, Scripture possess lots of figures of speech. The use of the sun as a metaphor was noted previously as follows:

Direction (either sun-rising: east; sun-setting: west) (eg. Num. 2:3)

An object of worship (e.g. Deu 17:3; 2 Kgs 23:5; Jer. 43:13 )

Something done openly or publicly, an unveiling (e.g. Num. 25:4; Judges 5:31; 2 Sam 12:11, 12; Ecc. 2:17; Matt. 5:45; 13:43)

Battle shields (as glittering or shinning, reflecting the sun)

A sign (e.g. of the greatness of God, Deu. 4:19); of God's control over it (Josh 10:13; Job 9:7; Ps. 74:16)

An object of measurement whether it be time (e.g. Deu. 16:6), limited time (Deu. 24:15), or space (Josh. 1:4)

The source of fruitfulness (Deu 33:14; Job 8:16)

Death or spiritual darkness. They shall not see the sun (meaning death, Ps. 58:8; or spiritual darkness, Mic. 3:6)

Longevity, strength (Ps. 72:5, 17; 89:36)

Sun used as a simile
Similes are easy to observe when one comes upon them. But the sun is also found used as a simile as follows:

And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. (Matt. 17:2)

His face is not the sun's light, but shines like that of the sun. The characteristic transferred to the Lord is the whiteness and purity of the sun (see also Rev. 1:16 – relating the sun's strength; Rev. 10:1).

As can be seen by this set of articles, the use of the sun, moon and stars as metaphors are for the purpose of associating a certain characteristic of them to the other object. That is the purpose of the figure of speech. It is not, as some say, a way to dig beyond the surface to a deeper meaning, a spiritual meaning which serves to minimize the plan sense for a higher lofty meaning that one has to go outside the immediate context to identify what is being said to justify their perversion of the Word.

The use of the allegorical technique was originally used to minimize the moral difficulty of the Greek gods, to make them more acceptable. One cannot do this with a normal reading. One cannot move outside the context, searching for uses of a word or phrase that matches their brand of theology or presupposition, then move that meaning to another context to justify some obscure point. One must always remember context, context, context!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sun Darkened and Moon Turned to Blood - Part 2

In the last article the origin of language was presented as being given by God with a complete set of complex rules that cannot be broken. That the normal reading of scripture and the literal method was His intention in creating language starting with Adam in order for mankind to understand what He has to say, but the allegorical method has been brought in to confuse and pervert the plain meaning. The allegorical is what the Greeks used to minimize the moral difficulty of their gods. When one wants to change the plain sense, for whatever reason, the most typical method used to move the reader away from the plain to their perverse is by means of allegory or some variant thereof. In this article an examination of typical interpretative errors will be presented and a systematic look at the sun and moon will follow.

Interpretative ErrorsToday we face an interpretative battle with fellow evangelicals and it is getting really ugly as the literal approach is attacked in favor of one of the following interpretative errors that have been identified by Dr. John McLean in the book The Fundamentals for the Twenty-First Century (Mal Couch, gen.ed., Grand Rapids:Kregel, 2000). A summary of Dr. McLean's observations follows:
  1. Allegorical Interpretation. Disregards the historical and contextual interpretation for a deeper, or mystical understanding.
  2. Spiritualized Interpretation. Similar to allegorical, the interpreter acknowledges the descriptive nature of the historical narrative, until the application step is reached. Then the historical is replaced in favor of a theological meaning.
  3. Typological Interpretation. The excessive application of seeing typology in every aspect of the Bible.
  4. Cross-Reference Interpretation. The interpreter searches for uses of the same or similar passages, words, or phrases anywhere in Scripture. The problem being there is a general disregard for context.
  5. Systematized Interpretation. The interpreter demands that Scripture fit into a particular theological system (e.g., replacement theology, covenant theology, etc).
  6. Prophetic Predictive Interpretation. The interpreter takes the fact that Scripture does contain prophecies to an extreme in which prophecies are seen everywhere. Cryptic, symbolic codes are seen everywhere.
  7. Wooden-Literal Interpretation. The interpreter fails to accept figures of speech, & etc.
  8. Personalized-Devotional Interpretation. Every passage relates directly to the reader's life (e.g., a promise to Abraham, David, or Paul becomes a direct promise to the reader).
  9. Prooftext or Dogmatic Issues Interpretation. The interpreter uses passages to prove a point, disregarding context.
  10. Rationalistic Interpretation. The rationalist seeks to maintain the understanding of the text within the realm of human reason or comprehension.
  11. Demythological Interpretation. The rationalistic approach, except that this system does not seek to comprehend the biblical story on any factual level. Historical facts are thrown away. The Bible does not contain actual history.
  12. Historical Interpretation. The Bible contains an account of history from the perspective of a particular cultural setting and represents their biases and values and views of reality.
  13. Literary Interpretation. The Bible is magnificent literature, but they do not accept it as the Word of God.
The list alone is an excellent way to identify the gross error that has crept into Christian writings. There is a multitude of reasons why one would change the plain sense into something else, but the result is the same - a perversion of God's Word and, furthermore, serves to minimize the intended doctrine. The perversion always affects theology in one way or another. The most important aspect of interpretation is context, context, context! As Dr. McLean writes, "Maintaining the big picture of literary context helps to control the direction of exegesis so that the exegete does not get off on to hermeneutical rabbit trails that have little to do with the argument of the book." Remember, words and grammar have some, but little meaning apart from the immediate context.

The Sun, Moon and StarsIt is time to take a systematic look at the sun, moon and stars. The common word for sun in Hebrew is shemesh from an unused root meaning "to be brilliant." In the Greek, sun is the word helios which comes from a root meaning "a ray." The normal use of the word is for the literal sun - that object of brilliance that God created and placed in the heavens. Of the 160 times the word is used in the Bible its primary use is literal, however, it can be observed to have several contextual meanings. A short list follows:

  • Direction (either sun-rising: east; sun-setting: west) (eg. Num. 2:3)
  • An object of worship (e.g. Deu 17:3; 2 Kgs 23:5; Jer. 43:13 )
  • Something done openly or publicly, an unveiling (e.g. Num. 25:4; Judg. 5:31; 2 Sam 12:11, 12; Ecc. 2:17; Matt. 5:45; 13:43)
  • Battle shields (as glittering or shinning, reflecting the sun)
  • A sign (e.g. of the greatness of God, Deu. 4:19); of God's control over it (Josh 10:13; Job 9:7; Ps. 74:16)
  • An object of measurement whether it be time (e.g. Deu. 16:6), limited time (Deu. 24:15); or space (Josh. 1:4)
  • The source of fruitfulness (Deu 33:14; Job 8:16)
  • Death or spiritual darkness. They shall not see the sun (meaning death, Ps. 58:8; or spiritual darkness, Mic. 3:6)
  • Longevity, strength (Ps. 72:5, 17; 89:36)

The sun serves as the center of our solar system, around which the earth travels and receives both its light and heat. Its light is denoted by the additional Hebrew words found for sun 'or meaning "light" (cf. Job 31:26), and heat by the word chammah (cf. Job 30:28). Sun worship dominated the nations surrounding Israel and the too, despite prohibition by the Law (Deu. 4:19) at times fell into sun-worship (cf. 2 Kg 21:3). So exacting is the movement of the sun that the ancient built elaborate sun-dials which trace the movement of the sun throughout the yearly cycle.

MoonThe word for moon in the Hebrew is yareach and serves as an important object for mankind and the earth as the physical effect of the moon on the earth are realized. The word month yerah is derived from moon, reflecting the moon's importance as a reliable source on measuring time. Time is often counted by the moon's lunar cycle. In the New Testament Greek the word for moon is selene. The moon is not only used as a literal object but also in the following ways:

  • appointed time (eg. new moon Num. 10:10; 28:14)
  • enduring time (Ps. 72:5, 7)

The moon serves to illuminate the night and regulates the seasons. The calendar of the ancients centered around the cycle of the moon, so the word Hebrew month is derived. The moon has three primary distinctions in the Hebrew; yareach meaning the its "paleness;" chodesh meaning "new moon;" and lebanah meaning the moon from its "whiteness."

Moon worship was fairly common in the ancient Near East. The pagan cults made human sacrifices to their various moon gods. Moon worship was even taken up by Manasseh who promoted it as part of worshiping "all the hosts of heaven" (2 Kg. 21:3-5).

StarsThe Hebrews grouped all heavenly bodies except the sun and moon into the word star. The Hebrew for star is kokab and the Greek astron or aster. Along with the literal use, stars are used in many ways including the following:

  • Jesus the morning star (Num. 24:17; Rev. 22:16)
  • Angels (Rev. 1:16, 20), Fallen Angels (Rev. 12:4) and Satan (Isa. 14:12)
  • Saints in heaven (Dan. 12:3) an Christians (Phil. 2:15)
  • False gods (Acts 7:43) and False teachers (Jude 13)
  • Rulers of earth (Dan. 8:10; Rev. 6:13)
  • A great number, extent or posterity (Gen. 15:5)

Stars served the ancients along with the sun and moon as navigational guides. So it is that they are the least luminaries of the heavens. The pagan nations used the stars in a magical way, hence, the term stargazer (Hebrew chozeh, "seer"). They used the stars as astrological guides for life that the Bible calls magic and forbids. Astrology sought to see and foretell the future.

God Created the Sun, Moon and StarsThe fashioning of the sun, moon and stars on the forth day are found to be a literal historical event and is described in the first book of the Bible. Genesis 1:16 says God made (Heb. 'asah, "to do," "make," fashion," "to accomplish"; and literally here, "continues to make." The incomplete action is significant) the sun and moon. God alone carefully placed them in the heavens as He saw fit and provides the purpose for their creation:

14 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. (Gen. 1:14-20)
1. Purpose. The purpose for creating the objects of the firmament is primarily to separate or divide the day from the night; but too, for the purpose of being: (a) signs, both in the sense of a miracle (cf. Matt. 2:2; Luke 21:25; Joel 2:30; Jer. 10:2; Matt. 24:29 & etc), and in the sense of good or bad weather; (b) seasons, not merely for festal seasons but to establish fixed points and periods of time based on a periodic basis for the four seasons and all that means for man, animal, plant, and earth; (c) for days in a literal sense of time; and (d) for years in a literal sense of counting time and history (Some have tightly connected signs to days and years by what is called a Hendiadys. But there is a division of opinion on this, and I take these to stand as independent objects).

In typical Hebrew style, the primary point is repeated, "so let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to cause to be a light upon the earth; and it was so" (v. 15). The greater light [the sun] rules the day. The Hebrew word rule (memshalah, "rule, "dominion," "realm") has the idea of having a domain whose rulership is defined and where a rule of law is held. The rule of the sun involves the domain of the day (yom, "day," "a 24 hour period," "a period of daylight," "a period in general," whose root means "to be hot") as is properly defined as the natural daylight or that period which allows mankind to work by the light of the day. By rule is meant all things that the sun physically provides the earth, moon, and stars. Principally, physical laws that are known and unknown (e.g., laws of gravity, photons, & etc). Likewise, "and the lesser light [the moon] to rule the night; the stars also." God has established a set of rules or physical laws that govern the moon and stars, as well, a set of laws that the moon and stars provides the earth. The moon and stars reflect the light of the sun by night and is understood by the Hebrew word for night (lul) whose root meaning is "to fold back." That is, the greater (day or sun) is folded back (cf. Ps. 136:8, "the sun governs the day").

Again, as if to restrict mankind from placing to much interpretative nonsense on the text, the author stresses for the third time the primary purpose for the heavenly objects that He carefully placed in the sky – to give light to the earth, to rule over day and night, and provide a separation between light and dark (vv. 17-18).

The Hebrews distinguished the day as follows: the early morning until the sun is hot (1 Sam. 11:9; Heh. 7:3); the heat of the day in late morning and afternoon (Gen. 18:1; 1 Sam. 11:11; 2 Sam. 4:5); and the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8); the twilight "between the two evenings" was the period after sunset but before dark (Ex. 12:6).

The apostle Paul likens the difference between the quality of the light that the sun, moon and stars provide to the difference between the earthly and heavenly human body (vv. 42-49) when he writes:

There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. (1 Cor. 15:40-41)

What is distinguished by Paul in 1 Corinthians is the heavenly is different (Greek heteros, "another of a different kind") in kind than the earthly. The different glories of the sun, moon and stars are distinguished (Greek ollos, "another of the same kind") in the way they carry (Greek diaphero, "to carry differently," here, in the impersonal "difference in importance") their individual glories. The moon and stars would not shine if the sun did not provide the light.

God Actively Controls the Sun, Moon and StarsNot only has God placed the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens as He saw fit but, He actively controls them as is demonstrated by "stilling" them in the sky for Joshua and the Israelite army (Josh. 10:12-13), and moving the sun back on the sundial of Ahaz as a sign for Hezekiah that God would heal him of his terminal illness (2 Kings 20:1-11). The Hebrew makes it clear as it literally says, "and He [the LORD] caused to return the shadow backwards by ten steps" (v. 11b). The causative verb "caused to return" makes it clear where the source of the control lies – with the LORD alone.

In several areas of Scripture, God speaks of His active control over His creation.

5 He removes the mountains, and they do not know When He overturns them in His anger; 6 He shakes the earth out of its place, And its pillars tremble; 7 He commands the sun, and it does not rise; He seals off the stars; 8 He alone spreads out the heavens, And treads on the waves of the sea; 9 He made the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, And the chambers of the south; 10 He does great things past finding out, Yes, wonders without number. 11 If He goes by me, I do not see Him; If He moves past, I do not perceive Him; 12 If He takes away, who can hinder Him? Who can say to Him, 'What are You doing?' 13 God will not withdraw His anger, The allies of the proud lie prostrate beneath Him. (Job. 9:5-13)

Job 9:7 says, "He commands the sun, and it does not rise." What makes this a literal statement? The context! In Job 9:5, Job says, "It is God who removes the mountains, they know not how, When He overturns them in His anger." This "removes or movement" ('athaq, "to move," "proceed," "be removed") of the mountains is in the causative making God the agent and refers to either a removal of a mountain as in a mudslide, a volcanic eruption where the mountain's lava serves to build a new mountain next to the old, or moves the mountains in the sense of an earthquake. Then in verse 6, Job says "Who shakes the earth out of its place, And its pillars tremble" no doubt speaks of earthquakes and all that entails. Then in verse 8, "Who alone stretches out the heavens And tramples down the waves of the sea." These are literal, historical events. Verse 9 continues with this theme of God's sovereign creation and control over His creation with verse 10 which gives the crescendo to the section essentially saying God's greatness is seen not only by His unfathomable ("great things that cannot be found out") and wondrous works, but man cannot count them. Man cannot even know all of them. This is the doctrine of God's infiniteness, omnipotence and omniscience.

The interpreter cannot spiritualize the text as some have tried, saying for example, that the removing of the mountains are a figurative way of saying that God removes nations, since nations are referred to as mountains. The interpreter cannot take the Bible as a whole, mix it up, like a salad bowl, and pull out information without regard for context. Some interpreters ignore the literal and go straight for the "spiritual," saying something like, "God can move the big mountains in your life." While the desire to make the text mean something practical to the person in the pew is a good thing, the main point of the text cannot be skipped over or minimized. The context involves real objects, real events and the point of the section involves God's unfathomable works that are visible, so there is no reason to make this section mean anything other than what it says. God is sovereign over His creation and that creation includes mankind! Is that not good enough for some? Are man's words better that God's? Does the interpreter have to improve God's word? The personal application is found as one continues through the verses of chapter 9, but to spiritualize this section is to do great harm to the plain reading of the Word.

In Psalm 104, the psalmist speaks of the sovereign control God has over creation. For example:

19 He made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting. 20 You appoint darkness and it becomes night, In which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. 21 The young lions roar after their prey And seek their food from God. 22 When the sun rises they withdraw And lie down in their dens. 23 Man goes forth to his work And to his labor until evening.
Psalm 104 says that God has appointed to each unique part of His creation an appointed part. The rules are for every aspect of life whether one observes it or not. For example in verses 19 through 23, the psalmist describes the aspect of the "season" (mo'ed, "appointed time," "season," or "place") of night. This particular season is night where the prowling beasts seek prey. The sun knows (yada', "to know") when to go down so that the appointed time called night can come in. The sun is described as "knowing," as if it had a mind. The lion is described as understanding why it hunts at night, as if he actually understood why that was. The man understands why he labors by day. These are general rules of life that each object lives by and in general cannot change. They are natures built into each one. The sun ruled by the natural laws we call physics. The lion the natural laws we call instinct. The man the natural laws called necessity. The sun cannot change its nature any more than the lion can change his.

In this case the literal interpreter does not say that the sun literally "knows" as if it had a mind and can understand its purpose, but this is clearly understood to be a literary means of explaining that even those objects that have a mind and capable of understanding, observe the natural function of the lion who hunts by night, and the man who labors by day, but to truly understand why, that is left to the Creator alone.

In the final period before the establishing of the Davidic kingdom, God will either change the quality of the sun or bring opportunity for the sun to scorch (kaumatizo, "to burn with heat," i.e, signifies the result of burning; hence to brand or sear) the inhabitants of the earth:

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. 9 Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. 10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, 11 and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. (Rev. 16:8-11)

The result of the intense nature of the sun, either as a result of a change in the sun itself, or bringing about circumstances on the earth which creates an environment for the sun to burn with full force all the extended day, is that sores (helkos, "sore," esp., a wound producing a discharge) are upon the men (cf. the seeds that are burned up by the sun in Matt. 16:2-3).

It is understood that both the sun and moon will have a wholly different nature in the last days as the light of the sun will be seven times greater than normal and the moon will be a light as the sun:

The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, on the day the LORD binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted (Isa. 30:26).

God Removes the Sun and MoonJust as surely as God created the sun, moon, and stars, so He will someday remove them. There will be no need for the sun and moon in the new earth. This is clear in the Old Testament by the word of the Lord in Isaiah 60:

No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. Your sun will no longer set, Nor will your moon withdraw; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be over. (Isa. 60:19-20)
Just as surely as God created the sun for light by day, He will remove its light, saying literally, " [The] light of the sun will not be for you for the light by day." Likewise the moon will not provide light by night. They will be replaced by the light of the Lord. Notice in verse 20 the sun goes down (bow', "to come," "go"), but the moon withdraws ('acaph, "gather together," "take away," the root idea is an association, i.e., the moon is tightly associated with the sun – the moon has no glory apart from the sun).

The New Testament tells the story of the New Jerusalem and the light present there. The Lord Himself will provide all the light needed at that time as His Shechinah (Hebrew shaken, "to dwell") Glory - the dwelling presence of God provides the illumination:

23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). (Rev. 21:23-25; cf. 22:5)
As can be seen in this article, God not only created the sun, moon and stars, but He actively controls them, holding them up by His power. The elements of the heavens are real and will at some point in the future change in their character and eventually go away, replaced by the light of the glory of the Lord Himself. These facts cannot be denied. There is nothing to indicate a spiritual reading of these events. It is only by interpretative error that they be minimized and their truth be perverted. In the next article the metaphorical use of the sun, moon and stars will be examined and a closer look at the subject of dramatic hyperbole will be examined.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sun Darkened and Moon turned to Blood


There are some who claim that Matthew 24 is using "dramatic hyperbole" when the Bible says "sun, and moon darkened" (e.g. Matt. 24:29) giving the interpreter license to dream up whatever he or she wants. For example, Dr. Gentry says of Matthew 24:29, "What does verse 29 mean? To understand it properly, we must interpret it covenantally, which is to say biblically, rather than according to a presupposed simple literalism." (Thomas Ice & Kenneth Gentry, The Great Tribulation: Past or Future (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), p. 55) Gentry provides the following examples as "apocalyptic language" saying it is a "dramatic way of expressing national calamity or victory in battle." And he backs up his claim citing: Judges 4-5; Isaiah 13:10; 13; Ezek. 32:2, 7-8; Jer. 4:11, 23-24, 29; and Joel 2:1, 10. By saying that the author uses "dramatic hyperbole," and "apocalyptic language," the critic means to change what the author intends into some perversion of what the interpreter wants.

Though it is true that dramatic hyperbole is used as part of normal speech, it is also true that since God Himself created the heavens and the earth, He alone is able to do with His creation as He pleases. And with respect to references concerning the sun and moon, I cannot find a single instance where God uses them as "hyperbole." They are found to be used as metaphors, but not hyperbolically. The Lord usually has no need for hyperbole. So, for example, when Joshua "intensely spoke" with God in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites and the sun and moon stopped in the sky (Josh. 10:12-13), did the sun and moon literally stop in the sky? The critic does not question the literalness of this event does he? When one reads of this event there is no way to understand it any other way than literal because of the context and the events that are described. There are a few natural grammatical rules that demand a normal reading. First, the result clause is given which provides no room for metaphor; "So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole (complete) day." (v. 13)

In Scripture there are often times when literary pictures are painted in order to describe an event. When one comes across these pictures, this type of language, there is no mistaking what is meant or how to interpret it. This article examines the historical development of interpretation and how we got to this debate. Then the sun, moon and stars as literary agents will be examined, providing common sense interpretative rules identifying the literary picture that is being drawn. And, finally, when a figurative or metaphoric interpretation is demanded and when a literal meaning is expected.

The Allegorical Verses Literal Method

The Literal

The literal method of interpretation is what everyone learns in elementary school. It is the normal way of reading, and contrary to those who profess otherwise, there is no difference in the way one reads the Bible and any other literary book. When it comes to basic rules of grammar and addressing the who, what, when, why and where, communication is communication! The rules of grammar, like the rules of physics, have been established by God and are fixed. It is God who supernaturally created the laws of communication. The rules are universal! Just as one cannot expect to ignore the physical laws such as gravity and live to tell the story, so one cannot ignore the rules of grammar and expect the audience to understand. Especially since God's intention is that all might hear His word and understand! God is a God of order and rules. One cannot work around His rules without perverting what He has established.

Dr. Ryrie says of the normal, plain method, "In giving us the revelation of Himself, God desires to communicate, not obscure, the truth. So we approach the interpretation of the Bible presupposing the use of normal canons of interpretation. Remember that when symbols, parables, types, etc. are used they depend on an underlying literal sense for their existence, and their interpretation must always be controlled by the concept that God communicates in a normal, plain, or literal manner." (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), pp. 16-17).

The literal method is what the early church used which is clear by examining the historical record of their writing. The literal method is what the orthodox Jewish school used which, likewise, is clear by examining their early writings and practice. The literal method is the normal method and is what God intended. The allegorical method is what the Greeks came to use in order to make their strange mythology acceptable and believable.

It is true to say that the Bible contains allegory, figures of speech, metaphors, idioms, and etc. But what has happened to the interpretation of the Bible is that interpreters in their zeal to provide an emotional response to the word of God, or prove some perverted theory, going outside the immediate text to bring out "spiritual" truth that may or may not be there!

The Allegorical Method

The allegorical method of Bible interpretation seeks to find deep spiritual meaning with every passage in the Bible. The word allegory comes to the English from the Greek where it is a compound word meaning "other (of the same kind) to speak," "to say what is either designed or fitted to convey a meaning other than the literal one." So the word is defined in a modern dictionary as "the use of characters or events to represent ideas or principles in a story, play, or picture."

The first biblically applied appearance of the allegorical method came from the Hellenistic dominated Alexandrian Jews and the most notorious being the Jewish philosopher Philo. Philo's famous work on the creation account illustrates his method as he changes the creation account into a spiritual lesson on virtue:

And God planted a paradise in Eden, in the east: and there he placed the man whom he had formed for he called that divine and heavenly wisdom by many names; and he made it manifest that it had many appellations; for he called it the beginning, and the image, and the sight of God. And now he exhibits the wisdom which is conversant about the things of the earth (as being an imitation of this archetypal wisdom), in the plantation of this Paradise... (45) God therefore sows and implants terrestrial virtue in the human race, being an imitation and representation of the heavenly virtue. For, pitying our race, and seeing that it is exposed to abundant and innumerable evils, he firmly planted terrestrial virtue as an assistant against and warderoff of the diseases of the soul; being, as I have said before, an imitation of the heavenly and archetypal wisdom which he calls by various names. Now virtue is called a paradise metaphorically, and the appropriate place for the paradise is Eden; and this means luxury: and the most appropriate field for virtue is peace, and ease, and joy; in which real luxury especially consists. (46) Moreover, the plantation of this paradise is represented in the east; for right reason never sets, and is never extinguished, but it is its nature to be always rising. And as I imagine, the rising sun fills the darkness of the air with light, so also does virtue when it has arisen in the soul, irradiate its mist and dissipate the dense darkness. (47) "And there," says Moses, "he placed the man whom he had formed:" for God being good, and having formed our race for virtue, as his work which was most akin to himself, places the mind in virtue, evidently in order that it, like a good husband, may cultivate and attend to nothing else except virtue.. (53) "And the man whom he had formed," Moses says, "God placed in the Paradise, for the present only... (54) Therefore, the man modelled after the idea of God, is perceived not only amid the planting of the virtues, but, besides this, he is their cultivator and guardian; that is to say, he is mindful of the things which he has heard and practised. But the man who is factitious, neither cultivates the virtues, nor guards them, but is only introduced into opinions by the abundant liberality of God, being on the point of immediately becoming an exile from virtue...

Notice how Philo takes the names of the rivers of Eden and applies a rather lengthy explanation relating the creation account to his made up virtues:

(63) "And a river goes forth out of Eden to water the Paradise. From thence it is separated into four heads: the name of the one is Pheison. That is the one which encircles the whole land of Evilat. There is the country where there is gold, and the gold of that land is good. There also are the carbuncle and the sapphire stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon; this is that which encircles the whole land of Ethiopia. And the third river is the Tigris. This is the river which flows in front of the Assyrians. And the fourth river is the Euphrates." In these words Moses intends to sketch out the particular virtues. And they also are four in number, prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. Now the greatest river from which the four branches flow off, is generic virtue, which we have already called goodness; and the four branches are the same number of virtues. (64) Generic virtue, therefore, derives its beginning from Eden, which is the wisdom of God; which rejoices and exults, and triumphs, being delighted at and honoured on account of nothing else, except its Father, God, and the four particular virtues, are branches from the generic virtue, which like a river waters all the good actions of each, with an abundant stream of benefits.. One of the four virtues is prudence, which Moses here calls Pheison: because the soul abstains, {pheiso from pheidomai, to spare, or abstain from.} from, and guards against, acts of iniquity.. (67) And when he uses the expression, "that is the country where there is gold," he is not speaking geographically, that is, where gold exists, but that is the country in which that valuable possession exists, brilliant as gold, tried in the fire, and valuable, namely, prudence.. (68) "And the name of the second river is Gihon. This is that which encircles all the land of Ethiopia." Under the symbol of this river courage is intended. For the name of Gihon being interpreted means chest, or an animal which attacks with its horns; each of which interpretations is emblematical of courage.. (69) "And the third river is the Tigris; this is that which flows in front of Assyria." The third virtue is temperance, which resolutely opposes that kind of pleasure which appears to be the directress of human infirmity. For the translation of the name Assyrians in the Greek tongue is euthynontes, (directors). And he has likened desire to a tiger, which is the most untameable of beasts; it being desire about which temperance is conversant.. (72) "And the fourth river," continues Moses, "is the river Euphrates." And this name Euphrates means fertility; and symbolically taken, it is the fourth virtue, namely, justice, which is most truly a productive virtue, and one which gladdens the intellect.
Finally, notice how Philo's allegory of the creation account moves logically to the theological as he redefines and minimizes spiritual death to simply mean destruction of virtue:

(105) Accordingly God says, "In the day in which ye eat of it ye shall die the death." And yet, though they have eaten of it, they not only do not die, but they even beget children, and are the causes of life to other beings besides themselves. What, then, are we to say? Surely that death is of two kinds; the one being the death of the man, the other the peculiar death of the soul--now the death of the man is the separation of his soul from his body, but the death of the soul is the destruction of virtue and the admission of vice;

As can be observed by the technique used by Philo, the allegorical method affects the theological. That is the purpose of allegorical method. Take what is normal and change it into something different and in most cases more difficult. While the modern evangelical does not support such extreme allegory, a less extreme, but no less result is supported by some who desire to minimize sections of Scripture that do not line up with their doctrine. An example of the allegorical approach in modern evangelicalism can be seen by the words of Dr. Gary DeMar who argues for the symbolical interpretation when he writes:

The darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars, coupled with the shaking of the heavens (24:29), are more descriptive ways of saying that 'heaven and earth will pass away' (24:35). In other contexts, when stars fall, they fall to the earth, a sure sign of temporal judgment (Isaiah 14:12; Daniel 8:10; Revelation 6:13; 9:1; 12:4). So then, "passing away of heaven and earth" is the passing away of the old covenant world of Judaism (1 Cor. 2:8). (
John MacArther, in Tim LaHaye & Thomas Ice gen. ed., The End Times Controversy (Eugene: Harvest House Books, 2003), p. 111)

This is reading into the text something that is not there. It is spiritualized eisegesis (reading into) not proper exegesis - taking out of the text what is there, not adding things to the text that cannot be substantiated by the text itself. Notice he says "in other contexts," which takes the reader away from the immediate context. Can you imagine, the visual signs simply mean the passing away of the old covenant world of Judaism (in 70 A.D.)? This is classic destructive biblical allegorism.

The Early Church Fathers
Though the literal dominated the fathers up to the around AD 250, it was at that time that the allegorical method started dominating Christendom. Origen (ca A.D. 185-254) is known as Mr. Allegorism though the technique that he came to promote was past down from Greek philosophy to the Alexandrian Jew Philo (ca 20 B.C.-54 A.D.) who did not think that the literal meaning was useless, but "it represented the immature level of understanding. The literal was the body of Scripture, and the allegorical sense its soul." (Barnard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1970), p. 27). This type of thinking, namely, that the allegorical is the more important sense of the word, is found in Origen's work On First Principles, where he argues, "that if no spiritual significance is found on the surface of a Bible passage, it may be concluded that the verses are to be taken symbolically.. In short time, Origen 'made allegory the dominant method of biblical interpretation down to the end of the Middle Ages.It took no genius to recognize that such allegory was a desperate effort to avoid the plain meaning of the text, and that, indeed, is how Origen viewed it.'" (Mal Couch, gen.ed., An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids:Kregel Publications, 2000), p. 99)

Augustine (A.D. 354-430) furthered the allegorical method by trying to develop a theory of signs. He "speaks of natural objects which are precepts but not signs, e.g., a piece of wood or metal. Next he speaks of things which signify other things. A tree may signify forestry service, a shoe a shoemaker, and an anvil the blacksmith guild..He defines a sign as: 'A thing which apart from the impression that it presents to the senses, causes of itself some other thing to enter our thoughts." (Ramm, p. 35)

Bernard Ramm in his classic work Protestant Biblical Interpretation defines the allegorical technique as "allegorical interpretation believes that beneath the letter (rhētē) or the obvious (phanera) is the real meaning (hyponoia) of the passage." (Ramm, p. 24) He goes on to note the following warning:
If the writer states that he is writing an allegory and gives us the cue, or if the cue is very obvious (as in an allegorical political satire), the problem of interpretation is not too difficult. But if we presume that the document has a secret meaning (hyponoia) and there are no cues concerning the hidden meaning interpretation is difficult. In fact, the basic problem is to determine if the passage has such a meaning at all. The further problem arises whether the secret meaning was in the mind of the original writer or something found there by the interpreter. If there are no cues, hints, connections, or other associations which indicate that the record is an allegory, and what the allegory intends to teach, we are on very uncertain grounds.
The Middle Ages
The Middle Ages brought the allegorical method to its most refined in the Roman Catholic Church who dominated life in the west. The use of the Scriptures placed outside the people's native tongue only served to further distance the author from the interpreter. The Roman Church's insistence upon a common Bible in the Latin Vulgate moved the Word further from the individual. The Latin Vulgate moved the word of God first from the original languages and secondly from the individual believer, who often times could not read Latin, to the Church and her hierarchy. This resulted in an interpretative disaster as the Church became the only authoritative source of interpretation. And the Church strictly enforced her authority. A set of fundamental rules of interpretation resulted. Dr. Ramm writes:

It would be over-simplification to assert that the only method of exegesis during the Middle Ages was the allegorical. It would not, however, be an exaggeration to assert that the preponderance of exegetical work was allegorical. To clarify terminology we should note that the scholastics divided the meaning of the Bible into the literal and the spiritual (i.e., the spirit is more central to human personality than the body, so the spiritual meaning of the Bible is the more important one) or the mystical (i.e., it is more refined, subtle, less obvious). Under the spiritual or mystical are the three divisions of (i) allegorical or what passes as a combination of typology and allegorism, (ii) tropological or moral interpretation, and (iii) anagogical or how the church now anticipates the church glorified, the eschatological sense.

The Roman Catholic Church developed Origen's three-fold sense (the literal, the moral, and the spiritual) into the four-fold, splitting the spiritual into the allegorical and the anagogical. Dr. Paul Tan illustrates their four-fold technique using Genesis 1:3 "Let there be light" as follows: "Medieval churchmen interpreted that sentence to mean (1) Historically or literally - An act of creation; (2) Morally - May we be mentally illuminated by Christ; (3) Allegorically - Let Christ be love; and (4) Anagogically - May we be led by Christ to glory." (Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Dallas:Bible Communications, Inc, 1993) p. 53).

The Reformation
The Reformation brought the original languages back as the source of mainstream interpretation and brought the literal method back to a large mainstream group within the Church. The Protestants had enough and their blood flowed defending themselves, opposing the perverted interpretative techniques and tradition of the Roman Church. The result was the Protestant's call for Sola Scriptura.

The two most famous individuals of the reformation, Luther and Calvin, rejected the allegory of the Roman Church. Both relied on the original languages of the Bible and promoted a return to the literal method. Luther called allegorical interpretation "dirt," "scum," "obsolete loose rags," and likened allegorizing to a harlot and to a monkey game. Calvin aired the same distaste as he called it Satanic because it led men away from the truth of Scripture. But they were not totally free from allegory as they too practiced the technique in a different form than the Roman Church, but allegory it what it still was.

Post ReformationThe post reformation era continued the reformer's method of "literal" interpretation. The problem was for the most part that their method was not pure. Most carried over allegory when it suited their theology. For example, they continued the technique of Augustine to interpret non-prophetic portions of Scripture literally and prophetic portions allegorically. With the creation of a system of theology called Covenant Theology in the sixteenth century, the interpreter had to change anything that was in conflict with Covenant Theology's imagined covenants into something else. The most popular technique used to harmonize their theology is the allegorical method. The same intent as the early Greeks is achieved, namely, to change the normal meaning into something different. The same intent as the Roman Catholic Church is maintained, namely, they maintain their tradition and creeds. The result is the perversion of the Word of God. They are changing it, perverting it into something that the laws of grammar do not allow. The plain reading of Scripture is changed in order to "prove their theology" which the plain reading destroys.

The Literalists of the Post Reformation
The proponents of reading Scripture using normal rules, the same rules used to read any historical material, not placing any theological restrictions, spiritual measuring rods, or ecclesiastical demands, became a solid base in the sixteenth century. It was during this period that premillennialism came back so to speak, from the dead. The normal reading of Scripture and hence, premillennialism, was dominate in the early church until the mid-three hundreds when allegory took center stage. With the reformation, some scholars of the sixteenth century returned to a more pure form of normal interpretation and hence the return of premillennialism was scattered throughout the Protestants of the west.

"In contrast [to Amillennialists], premillennialist, following the teaching of the early church, treat the Second Coming with the same literal hermeneutic as they would the First Coming of Jesus. They hold that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, should be understood literally from a normal reading unless typology or poetry is clearly used. And even then, premillennialists believe that 'literalness' is implied behind the figure of speech or illustration used." (Mal Couch, gen.ed., An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids:Kregel Publications, 2000), p. 11)

To speak of a normal reading of Scripture is to say that one reads with a literal, grammatical-historical technique. Dr. Ice notes, "Literal interpretation of the Bible simply means to explain the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary usage of its language. How is this done? It can only be accomplished through the grammatical (according to the rules of grammar), historical (consistent with the historical setting of the passage), contextual (in accord with the context) method of interpretation." (Thomas Ice. in Tim LaHaye & Thomas Ice gen. ed., The End Times Controversy (Eugene Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), p. 69)

One of the foremost literalist was the Englishman Joseph Mede (1586-1638) who was a fellow of Christ's College Cambridge and an important intellectual of his day. He served as professor of Greek and was self-taught in Hebrew. He, as all the intellectuals of that day, was well versed in many subjects. Mathematics, logic, and theology were all subjects he was known for. His importance in the movement towards literalism is primarily due to his teaching and influence upon the next generation.

The normal reading of Scripture came down to the incredible scholastic researcher John Gill (1679-1771). Though not consistent in his many writings, his premillennial literal view is significant for his day. The Irishman John Darby (1800-1882) used the literal method to understand the Scriptures as revealing a set of dispensations that God deals with nations, laws, Israel, and the Gentiles in a unique way. The Scriptures describe God's dealing with people and nations and their subsequent failure to obey God resulting in judgment.

But it was the twentieth century and the Scofield Reference Bible that popularized the common sense normal reading of the Bible. C.I. Scofield (1843-1921) published his reference Bible in 1909 and along with the many Bible conferences and the Bible Church movement, the Bible and the literal method became a popular method.

Among the Evangelical Church, the Scofield Reference Bible and the return to a normal reading of Scripture, has found its harsh critics. The allegorical method and its intoxicating spiritual message are alluring even to the most sober of believer. It sounds good to the ear, but has no solid ground to stand on. It perverts the Word and only serves to satisfy the one who has an agenda, be it theological, spiritual, or ecclesiastical.

What has survived of the allegorical method in evangelical circles is mostly characterized by typological. That is, since the reformation the expositor has used words from other sections of Scripture to justify his or her interpretation. Where words might mean one thing in one section of Scripture does not mean that the word means that very same thing in every section of Scripture. Grammar and context is what is used in a normal reading.

In the next article, the sun and moon will examined systematically and Dr. Gentry's list of apocalyptic language will be examined along with more on the modern evangelical's use, or rather misuse, of context and cultural word usage.