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Chapter II 

The Great Hermeneutical Rule Of Interpreting Prophecy (1)

In our present church-world, to mention hermeneutics seems almost like joining the multitude of voices, all clamoring for a hearing for their understanding of the correct, orthodox way of interpreting the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament Prophetic writings called the Scriptures. 

Howbeit, it is not our intention to add one more voice to the din of voices concerning the general question of how to ascertain the “message,” the KERUGMA, in the Scripture. We stand firmly anchored in the commitment that the Bible is the Word of God, and we agree with the Belgic Confession Article III which, speaking of the Word of God, declares,

We confess that the Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the Apostle Peter saith.

II Peter 1:21

And that God afterwards from a special care for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit this revealed word to writing, and He Himself wrote with His own finger the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures. See

Exodus 24:4; Psalm 102:19; Hab 2:2.

Furthermore, it is well, at the outset of this writing on “believing all the Prophetic Scriptures,” to confess here publicly and before all the angels and all the saints, that,

We receive all the 66 books of the Bible as holy and canonical, for the regulations, foundation and confirmation of our faith, believing without doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling (Belgic Confession, Art. V)

In this Confession we expressed the very germ of our faith in the Divine Scriptures, also as to their principle of interpretation. In this Confessional statement is embodied the sound principle of Scriptural hermeneutics that Scripture must interpret Scripture. This is implied in that these Scriptures are a unity, and that as such they are the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith. 

The Holy Scriptures are all given by inspiration of God. That is what is known as the “Theopneusatos” of Scripture; they are God-spirited, God-breathed. They are the very breath of God in the Word incarnate. They contain what the Spirit says to the churches (II Tim. 3:16;John 15:26John 16:13-15Rev. 2:7). And if we have an ear to hear we will indeed believe this testimony of the Scriptures, and emphatically we will believe that the things thereof are being fulfilled! The Jews, unbelieving hearers of Jesus’ words, failed to hear because they believed not (Matt. 11:15Matt. 13:9, 43). In the day of judgment Jesus will not condemn the unbelievers, but the Word which he has spoken will do so (Rom. 2:16II Thess. 2:10-12). 

This is Jesus’ own Word to the church! 

He tells us that His Word is always heard by His own sheep. When the caviling Jews oppose Him, He tells them that they do not believe because they are not of His sheep (John 10:26-28). He keeps His sheep in His own power by His mighty word of the Gospel-preaching. 

Now there always have been men and women who hear the Gospel, who do not believe the Word of God, the Scriptures, and who wrest these oracles of God to their own destruction. This is particularly true of certain men throughout the ages who, concerning the Parousia, the final great and glorious manifestation of the Son of Man upon the clouds of heaven, wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction. 

It is true, the Scriptures themselves speak of the truth of the “last things” in language which is hard to be understood. Peter writes thus in II Peter 3:16: “. . .wherein are some things hard to be understood.” The term in the Greek is “dusnoeeta.” This term emphasizes that Paul wrote certain matters concerning the coming of Christ which require hard and difficult study. It seems that we have such a passage of Paul recorded for us in II Thessalonians 2:3-12. What Peter emphasizes is that scoffers and mockers, who really do not love the coming of the Lord, and who will discourage the saints (II Peter 3:1-7) are the very men who are ignorant and unsteady, and wrest them to their own destruction. Such do not themselves enter into the kingdom of heaven, and they would forbid those who would enter the kingdom to enter. The beautiful Scriptures of Paul as well as of Christ Himself, do not incite them to “hasten” the presence of the day of God, and they do not really look for a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (II Peter 3:12-13). These never were such that they expected to see the Lord Himself glorified. They never therefore purified themselves as God is pure (I John 3:1-3). They contradict the Scriptures to their own destruction. They receive their own (idian . . . apooleian) destruction. They have their reward of disobedience. They received not the love of the truth! 

Into this pitfall no man needs to fall unto his own destruction because of these “things hard to be understood.” He must ever explain the less clear in the light of the more clear passages of Holy Scripture. The Scriptures are throughout clear and perspicuous. Jesus always quotes the Scriptures as those which can very readily be understood, and applies them to Himself. There is one truth which, concerning the Last Things and the final return of Christ, remains hidden from us: the exact day and hour of Christ’s return (Matt. 24:36Acts 1:7I Thess. 5:1-11). The truth is that this is not a disadvantage at all for the church of the New Testament. This is the spiritual incentive to be watchful unto prayer (Matt. 24:42-44Matt. 25:1-13Rev. 22:17). Hence, we are admonished ever to pray and not to faint (Luke 18:1-8).

There are some passages in the Old Testament prophecies which are hard to be understood. These require much devoted and sanctified study. And, alas, the number is legion who fall in the class of those who wrest these Scriptures very much from the pattern of sound words of doctrine to their own destruction. Those who wrested the words of the beloved Paul to their own destruction did this too with the other Scriptures (II Peter 3:16). One cannot tamper with the Scriptures simply in one place. The teaching of false preachers eats as does the cancer; it must depart by the very logic of their error from all sound words of doctrine which are for the edifying of the saints (Titus 1:1;Rom. 6:17). This is a solemn warning, also for the writer of these lines, not to depart from the pattern of sound words, unto which the church has been delivered in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:17). 

And with this in mind we need not some clever rules of interpretation but we need sound rules of interpretation which Jesus Himself gives of the Old Testament prophecies. We have this given to us by Jesus Himself after His glorious and triumphant resurrection from the dead. 

We call attention to Jesus’ unfolding of the Scriptures with infallible accuracy. Jesus must have done this already when He was twelve years old, when He was there with the rabbis,” sitting in their midst, both hearing them and asking them questions; and they were all amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Rom. 6:17). 

And with this in mind we need not some clever rules of interpretation but we need sound rules of interpretation which Jesus Himself gives of the Old Testament prophecies. We have this given to us by Jesus Himself after His glorious and triumphant resurrection from the dead. 

We call attention to Jesus’ unfolding of the Scriptures with infallible accuracy. Jesus must have done this already when He was twelve years old, when He was there with the rabbis,” sitting in their midst, both hearing them and asking them questions; and they were all amazed at His understanding and His answers” (Luke 2:46, 47). Twice on the evening of the day of Christ’s resurrection He interpreted the Scriptures. Jesus stands there between the ages as the fulfillment of all the promises. He stands there where the kingdom is really taken away from the Israel of the Old Testament dispensation, as the Theocratic kingdom, and as this kingdom will be given to others. He will take His church out of nonage, the time of her childhood and grant her the Spirit of adoption from on high, crying “Abba, Father”‘ in their hearts. Now shall all nations be blessed in Abraham, as before was preached by the Holy Scriptures (Gal. 5:8). These Scriptures “foresaw” that the Gentiles too were by God to be justified by faith (Gal. 3:8). That is true not simply of some isolated passage in the Old Testament, but this is true of “the Scripture.” Paul writes in the Greek “he graphee“! All the Scriptures speak thus as in one grand and glorious speech. It is the one central themeof the Old Testament. This Jesus expressed to the unbelieving Jews, as recorded in John 5:45: “Think not that I will condemn you unto the Father, there is one that condemneth you, even Moses, into whom ye trust. For if ye would believe Moses (that one) ye would believe in Me, for he wrote concerning Me (peri. . . emou).” And it is very evident from the preposition perithat this means that the first five books of the Bible have one central subject: Jesus Christ and Him crucified! 

This is the key to understand the Old Testament Scriptures! 

Here we read the great hermeneutical principle that Christ is the end (telos) of the law, for righteousness to those who believe, whether they be Jew or Greek, or barbarian, bond or free, male or female. And this also indicates that the entire Old Testament not only predicted the coming of the Christ, but has meaning only when Christ comes to fulfill the promise to allnations. 

Thus Jesus interprets the Scriptures to both the travelers to Emmaus, as well as somewhat later that evening to the eleven disciples, Thomas being absent however (Luke 24:13-32 and Luke 24:44-49). And we only will fare well as exegetes of Scripture when we carefully listen to Jesus, the great interpreter, and learn His infallible hermeneutics. No, Jesus did not give a formal course in the science of hermeneutics to His disciples after His resurrection. What Jesus did was to set the Cross in the proper place in the teaching of all the Old Testament Scriptures. 

Jesus starts this instruction in a very pedagogical way with these two travelers to Emmaus, as they walk and talk of the strange and marvelous fact that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified by the leaders in Israel (Luke 24:19, 20). And now they have another fact which must be explained, but it seems like a deep riddle which defies all explanation. Jesus is reported to have risen from the dead; yea, it is the third day, the tomb was found empty in a very wondrous way, and certain women reported that Jesus was no longer dead. He is alive! And so they have a very deep problem which can not be fathomed or interpreted by human ken, but which must be solved by a clear-cut, definite interpretation of all the Scriptures, as these cast their light upon this Wonder of wonders: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

These two travelers need a lesson in good interpretation of the Scriptures, and then this “peripatetic” instruction of only two students becomes the great hermeneutical rule of interpreting the Old Testament prophecies, including the place of Old Testament Israel in the great economy of salvation! Christ was made a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, that He might confirm the promises given to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy (Rom. 15:8, 9Ps. 18:49Deut. 32:43Ps. 117:1Is. 11:10).