Hermeneutical Efforts To Undermine Doctrine
Some portions of Scripture are essentially worthless for doctrine. Ramm says, "There is no uniformity of importance in the Scriptures. It is true that in so-called scholastic orthodoxy, Scriptures were cited as proofs without regard to their location in Scripture (hence a passing reference in the Psalms was given as much weight as a verse in Romans). But this kind of exegesis is no longer defensible and has all but disappeared in contemporary theology" (1).
It is true that all Scripture is not of equal clarity and that in deciding doctrinal questions we should give primary attention to the clearer teaching of Scripture. But the tendency of the false rule stated above is to withdraw doctrinal significance from any text that the reader subjectively decides is unimportant. Ramm ascribes the so-called method of proof texts to scholastic orthodoxy, whereas with as much accuracy he could have ascribed the same method to Christ and the apostles. They too were unashamed to find doctrinal authority even in the Psalms. They went to the Psalms to prove the Resurrection (Psa. 16:10), the deity of Christ (Psa. 110), and other major doctrines. Often their argument depended on single words of easily misconstrued meaning.
The Bible itself says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine" (2 Tim. 3:16).
Hermeneutical Abuse of Prophecy
Types and prophecies cannot reveal aspects of the future unseen by the prophet himself. Champions of this rule differ in how broadly they apply it and in how severely they limit the supernatural.
Henry A. Virkler refrains from applying the rule to those Old Testament texts where predictive meaning is clearly certified by the New Testament. "Any passage that seems to have a fuller meaning than is likely to have been comprehended by the human author should be so interpreted only when God has expressly declared the nature of His fuller meaning through later revelation" (2).
This procedure implies that very similar or closely related texts should be treated in a radically different manner. For example, Hosea 11:1 is Messianic (because of its use in Matt. 2:15), but the reference to the king of Israel in the previous verse (Hosea 10:15) is not Messianic. Perhaps because they sense that sorting Old Testament texts into different classes according to their use in the New Testament does violence to the organic unity of Scripture, proponents of this procedure often sound rather defensive. "Before one can sit in judgment on New Testament writers in their use of the Old Testament, he needs more information . . . . They may be using exegesis that by our standards may not be acceptable yet was totally acceptable in their day. How else could so many have been convinced by the way in which the writers proved that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures? . . . One must also bear in mind that the writers of the New Testament could make changes that uninspired men would dare not attempt. If they saw fulfillment in a passage, whether or not it was originally intended, the truth was still there" (3). The writer here is obviously uncomfortable with the way New Testament writers use the Old Testament. Rather than resolve this tension by throwing off his own hermeneutical procedures and imitating the apostles, he cautions us that their procedures are forbidden to ordinary mortals. But what carries greater authority—the example of Scripture or a man's ipse dixit that the example of Scripture must not be followed?
Kaiser seeks a grand compromise. To please the temper of modern hermeneutics, he applies the rule stated above to the entire Old Testament, but to avoid forsaking orthodoxy, he concedes that the Old Testament contains predictive prophecy. How could the prophets write no more than they knew and yet make astonishingly accurate predictions of things far in the future? Kaiser responds that God revealed to the prophets not only what they should say but also the meaning of what they said. "The writers can and do have an adequate understanding of the subject on which they write" (4). In rejoinder to any objection based on 1 Peter 1:10, 11: "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, . . . searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ," Kaiser argues that this passage when properly interpreted supports rather than challenges his own view (5). He regards the passage as teaching, first, that the prophets understood their words as referring to the sufferings of Christ and, second, that the only knowledge they did not have concerned the time of Christ's coming. He asserts, moreover, that the question as to when He would come was outside the scope of their predictions.
Peter asserts that the prophets were ignorant not only of "what manner of time," but also of "what . . . the Spirit of Christ . . . did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ." In other words, they did not know exactly what their own prophecies meant. Moreover, how does Kaiser interpret the prophecy in Daniel 9:25? His reasoning requires us to deny that this is a prophecy of when Christ will come, even though the natural sense of the words certainly suggests that such a prophecy is intended.
Kaiser's approach has another pitfall. The New Testament finds types and prophecies in many texts where the human author appears wholly unconscious of any such meaning. When Moses recorded that he drew water from a rock, did he suppose that the rock represented Christ? To insist that he must have understood this symbolism is mere obedience to a preconceived notion lacking support in the text itself (6). The weakness of Kaiser's position is nowhere more evident than in his attempt to show that the reference to Christ in Hosea 11:1 is deliberate by the human author (7). In claiming that Hosea held to a sweeping theory of generic and ultimate fulfillments, Kaiser greatly overdraws Hosea's subtlety, intellectual detachment from the immediate subject, and resemblance to Kaiser himself.
The most logically consistent champions of this rule simply deny that the Old Testament contains predictive prophecies. It is Robert Laurin's view that "one cannot look for correspondence in details or find hidden spiritual meanings, but rather must seek historical analogies alone" (8).
The audacity of the scholars who deny prediction while assuring us that they believe in the inspiration of Scripture is breathtaking. But notice that this view trivializes, or makes comical, many New Testament references to the Old Testament. Along with his record that Jesus cried aloud, "I thirst," John reminds us of the same words in the Psalms. Why? The correspondence is important if it is a case of prophecy fulfilled. If it is merely a case of analogy—that David was once thirsty also—John's glance backward to the Old Testament becomes pointless, if not silly.
The correct approach to such prophecies as those in the Book of Revelation is to recognize that they are highly dramatized and poeticized pictures of calamities within the author's own experience or imagination—that in this respect they are examples of apocalyptic, a literary genre that includes many ancient writings outside the canon of Scripture. Some evangelical scholars depart from an out-and-out preterist view of these prophecies only in their concession that the writers correctly foresaw history moving toward a final confrontation between good and evil. G. R. Beasley-Murray opines, "It is often said that John wrote the Revelation not for his own age but for the church of the end time. Hence the book is made to yield information and ideas such as the prophet had never dreamed of." The right perspective on the book, according to the same writer, is that "John was given to see the logical consummation of the tendencies at work, mankind divided to the obedience of Christ or Antichrist. On the canvas of John's age, therefore, and in the colours of his environment, he pictured the last great crisis of the world" (9). That this view is prevalent among evangelicals may be inferred from the following comments of D. A. Carson: "Of the writing of books on Revelation there is no end. Mercifully, several excellent commentaries are available, to compensate for a good deal of nonsense one finds elsewhere. One of the preacher's first requirements, before plunging into the 'application,' is to find a couple of commentators who understand the nature and purpose of apocalyptic. In this respect we might wisely turn to G. B. Caird . . . or G. R. Beasley-Murray" (10).
Scripture itself plainly teaches that the apocalyptic visions contained in Daniel, Revelation, and other books come from God. Although, like the parables of Jesus, they are couched in terms and symbols somewhat accessible to the immediate audience, they show the mind of God rather than the mind of the human author. Certain events in antiquity were no doubt divinely appointed as decoys to give hostile critics the impression that they need look no further for the historical relevance of these visions. Yet the point of view of the visions themselves is aptly expressed in Daniel 8:17, "At the time of the end shall be the vision."
Hermeneutical Reshaping of Bible Teachings at Variance with Modern Science
The Bible does not teach that the worlds were made in six literal days. Rather, the word yom, translated "day," refers to a long period of time, to an age spanning perhaps millions or billions of years. Many evangelicals claim to accept both the scientific and the Biblical accounts of creation. In order to merge billions of years of history with the six creative days of Genesis 1, they must assume that the Hebrew word for day, yom, bears a figurative sense in this passage, a sense expanding to describe a broad vista of time rather than a constricted period of twenty-four hours (11).
One characteristic of great poetry is that the smallest detail has meaning, although the meaning may be conveyed by figurative language. Yet a figurative interpretation of yom obliterates the details of Genesis 1.
- The record of creative activity on each day ends with the statement, "And the evening and the morning were [that] day." How can an age have an "evening" and "morning"? Day-agers reply that these terms are metaphors with the sense "the beginning" and "the end" (12). In other words, the formula closing the account of each day is merely stating, "The beginning and the end brought the age to completion." But what a vacuous statement! Why say it even once, let alone six times? Denying "evening" and "morning" their usual meanings thus reduces them to expendable details. The repetition of the formula strongly advises us against thinking it void of significance, however. Its likely purpose is to show us that the day is not an age, but a solar day with a sequence of light and darkness. The statement that God separated light from darkness precedes the first mention of morning and evening, suggesting that these arose from the creative act.
- What sense can we make of the record that plants were created an age before the heavenly bodies, and that it was another age before ocean life appeared? The usual answer to this objection pleads a phenomenal perspective. That is, the author supposedly reports events as they would have looked to an observer on the face of the earth (13). But this answer seems contrived, because the only evidence in its favor are those details of the account which cannot be harmonized with uniformitarian science.
- On the seventh day, God rested from His creative work. Here is another detail that becomes unintelligible if the day was an age. Consider these two difficulties:
- If the seventh day was age-long, when did it come to an end? Presumably, when God stopped resting and resumed work. Yet Genesis 2:1 says that the heavens and the earth were finished on the sixth day. And according to Hebrews 4:3, "The works were finished from the foundation of the world." So, we might infer that the seventh day continues even now. Yet every mention of it sets it in the past (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11; 31:17; etc.).
- The law of Moses states that because God rested on the seventh day, He made it holy and appointed it to be man's day of rest also (Ex. 20:11; 31:17). In the same utterance, the Bible speaks of both God's sabbath and man's sabbath as days, giving no hint at all that they might be days of different kinds. Moreover, the Bible treats the one as precedent and the other as perpetuation. Yet how can a day of the week bear such a relationship to an age of ill-defined duration?
Although I myself held to day-age theory when I was a young man, I never found it satisfying. My most serious reservation arose from considering how God's character affects His Word. If He wished to enlighten us about what happened at creation, why would He make statements that we would certainly misconstrue, arriving at radical misconceptions? It seemed to me that day-age theory pictures God as less than scrupulously truthful. So at last I renounced day-age theory. It was evident to me then that I must treat the Genesis record as either literal history or unhistorical myth. Since I lived under the spell of science, I chose science as my authority and became an out-and-out agnostic evolutionist.
When I returned to the Lord many years ago, I realized that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your science, Horatio. I found out too that God delights in confounding those who do not like Him. He poses riddles they cannot solve. Consider the conundrums of modern physics, for example. And He allows them to build intellectual fairy castles that He will someday demolish with a poke of His little finger.
One of these airy edifices is modern cosmology. A prominent day-ager, Hugh Ross, has tried to turn the vast improbabilities of this theory into an asset for apologetics. According to Ross, the minute chance that a universe hospitable to life could have appeared spontaneously reveals a Creator-Designer (14). The apparent fine tuning of the universe and Planet Earth to make life possible is called the anthropic principle. The weak point in Ross's reasoning is that he does not distinguish between established facts and speculative hypotheses. Only the former make a proper foundation for teleological reasoning. The severe restrictions on the possible values of physical constants and the demanding requirements for a viable earth indeed illustrate design. However, the improbable circumstances necessary for stellar and biological evolution do not show a Designer at work. Rather, they show just how implausible evolution is. In other words, Ross uses the anthropic principle as a deus ex machina to save a bad plot.
I have great respect for true science, proceeding under the discipline of sober methodology. But I resist any efforts of the latest speculative science to charm me or bully me into changing any presumptive meaning of a Bible text; that is, any meaning that would never be doubted in a court of law.
The Flood was not universal, but restricted to the region of Mesopotamia. Rather than consider this issue in detail, I will refer the reader to lengthier and more definitive discussions. The strongest case for a local Flood appears in Bernard Ramm's The Christian View of Science and Scripture (15). A thorough rebuttal appears in John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris's The Genesis Flood (16).