Friday, February 24, 2006

Inerrant Revelation

When it comes to eschatology, I am a partial preterist. Being a partial preterist, I like to think that I interpret the Bible sensus literalis, that is, in the literal sense in which it was written. In other words, poetry is interpreted as poetry, historical narrative is interpreted as historical narrative, etc. And first and foremost, I believe that Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. If I come across a passage that is hard to understand, I compare it to similar passages that are more easily understood. Despite all of this, your average Dispensationalist (like the guys who write for Jerry Falwell's newspaper) will accuse my kind of not taking Scripture literally, and will perhaps slip in the accusation of liberalism somewhere (especially towards those of us who are Postmillennial). Which is all very odd. There are many different examples of how this can be proved false, some of which I may have posted in the past (I'm too old to remember what I've written, and too lazy to check). Today, I will provide just one or two examples of why partial-preterism is more literal in its hermeneutic than is Dispensationalism, and why it allows less leeway for liberalism.

My example comes from the book of Revelation, chapter 6, verses 12-17:

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Many people look at this and say, "Here, now, this must be about the end of all things, and not just the destruction of Jerusalem, as you preterist say. You're just not interpreting it literally!"

Well, I am interpreting it in the sense it which it was written, which is apocalyptic literature, which is full of symbols and imagery. This can be seen by looking at all the Old Testament prophecies which have all been fulfilled but not in woodenly "literal" ways. And I'll get to some of those in just a moment.

But before I get to my Scriptural argument, I will use an argument from God-given reason. If these verses describe the destruction of all creation as we know it, then how is that people are able to call upon the mountains and rocks to cover them? The mountains and rocks will be destroyed, so they are no help! Unless perhaps this isn't a reference to the end of creation...

But on a more Biblical note, I can live with being accused of not taking the passage literally if that means that I am interpreting Scripture with Scripture, because that is a much better method than any man-made method of interpretation. First of all, if we've been comparing Revelation with Jesus' Olivet Discourse in the Gospels, (as most schools of eschatological thought do), then we see that this coincides with the Great Tribulation that Jesus spoke of, for instance, in Luke 21:25-27. But when does Jesus say that this will occur? Luke 21:32 says that it would all occur before the generation to whom Jesus spoke would pass away. Forget Tim LaHaye, let Jesus interpret this passage for us! He states clearly that it would happen within one generation's time.

Now at this point your futurist (among whom the Dispensationalists are the most numerous and vehement) will do all sorts of flip-flops to make "this generation" mean anything but what it literally means!

What's more, the imagery of Revelation 6:12-17 is also seen in many other places. Let's look. There is Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37 showing the tribes of Israel as being stars and sun and moon. Judges 5:19-20 represents warring nations as stars. In Isaiah 13:10, we see the apocalyptic stellar imagery used to predict the judgement that came on Babylon. See similar instances of this imagery used about judgements that occurred before the time of Christ in Isaiah 34:4, Ezekial 32:7, Amos 8:9, Joel 2:10, and Joel 2:28-32. This last passage is particularly interesting because, just in case it should be stubbornly denied that the other prophecies have already found completion, the Bible makes it clear that Joel 2:28-32 has already come to pass.

In Acts chapter 2, Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32 (which mentions the sun being turned to darkness and the moon turning to blood) right after saying that it applies to their day. There can be no denying that the sun did not literally go dark nor the moon turn to blood at Pentecost! Rather, the only possible explanation after viewing all of these Scripture passages in their proper contexts, is to believe that the cosmic imagery refers to the overturning of the old ways to make room for the new. Revelation 6 is telling of how the Jewish way of life with the temple and the offering of blood sacrifices, etc, was coming to an end. A new way of life, a new creation was being inaugurated. That is what Peter meant. To continue to believe in a dramatic Dispensational futurist model is to kick against the goads.

Which, as much as I hate to say it because I respect this man greatly, John MacArthur does. He does this in an otherwise excellent chapter on the speaking of tongues in his book Charismatic Chaos. Dr. MacArthur takes the cessationist point of view, which says that the miraculous gifts ceased with the end of the Apostles. To which I agree. He then goes on to say, however, that these gifts will resume at the end-times, because they are mentioned in Joel 2:28, and Joel 2:28 is referring to the end-times. But Peter says that Joel 2:28 was referring to Pentecost in the first century! As much as I love Dr. John MacArthur, I am going to have to side with the Apostle Peter on this one. I'd rather interpret the Bible with the Bible than with the traditions of even well-loved men.

Thus far I have demonstrated with an example that partial-preterists are much more Bible-honoring in that they interpret Scripture with Scripture rather than with the imaginations of men, as futurists do. I have also shown, with the "this generation" bit, that preterists really do interpret the Bible more literally than Dispensationalists. But now I have one final thing to say. It is in regard to the charge of liberalism.

First of all, R.C. Sproul gives an excellent reason why partial-preterism is a great apologetic against liberalism in his book and series, The Last Days According to Jesus. To summarize his argument, it goes something like this. The critic says: "Jesus says that the end of the world would come within His generation. This, obviously, did not happen. Therefore Jesus was a false prophet. Therefore the whole Christian religion is false."

Now the Christian has two options open to him. He can, as the futurists do, say that Jesus was talking about the end of the world, but that "this generation" does not mean "this generation." As I have already shown, this does much dishonor to the text of Scripture.

The second option would be to say that Jesus was talking about a judgement that was not the end of the world, and that "this generation" does mean "this generation." And when you compare the historical accounts of the Jewish war and the destruction of Jerusalem with the Olivet discourse, you discover that Jesus was indeed correct in his prediction, and in very great detail, at that (not some sort of vague prophecy which anything could fulfill). Thus, the truthfulness of Jesus is more prominent than ever.

So which is it? The approach that leaves the skeptic saying, "I still believe Jesus was a false prophet because your "this generation does not mean this generation" ploy is just ridiculous and stupid, or the approach that silences the skeptic because it demonstrated Jesus to have been absolutely correct? Who opens the door for liberalism now?

Finally, I will talk about liberalism regarding a topic that drives me nuts. I have had heard many a preacher who confesses the Bible to be inerrant, to say something like this: "It is obvious that the apostles believed in a soon return of Christ, but they were wrong." They may even say, "Jesus thought He would return soon, but was mistaken. And that's okay because He said He didn't know the day or the hour." It's not okay. If you make statements like these, then you are throwing out inerrancy. I agree that the apostles may have mistaken ideas, but God would not have allowed them to write those mistaken ideas into Scripture. Everything that has been providentially preserved for us is without the error of merely human authors. The Bible was breathed out by God, and since He is perfect, then His Word is perfect. If Jesus was not sure about something, He would have not offered His guess. That was not the way respectable rabbis taught, and it is not the way that the Lord of all truth would have taught. Everything that Jesus said would happen has happened or will happen exactly when He said they would happen. We cannot, as responsible Christians, claim otherwise. If there is a mistake, it is not with the Biblical authors. It must be with the reader. If you read the Olivet discourse and decide that Jesus made a mistake, then you can be sure that it is your interpretation that is in error.

That's all I've got to say about that.