Hermeneutic is, to make an understatement, the key to proper understanding the Bible, or any piece of literature. If one utilizes a flawed hermeneutic, interpretive system, paradigm, or principle, then his interpretation of Scripture is inherently flawed.
To illustrate with a true story, some years ago I encountered a man that claimed that the Spirit had revealed to him that the Bible was not actually written to the churches (for instance) that bear their names but to us today. In other words, even though 1 Corinthians expressly says “to the church of God at Corinth”, the Spirit had (supposedly) revealed to him that the epistle was actually written to the churches of America! He said the Spirit allowed the Corinthians to believe the epistle was written to them, but, in truth, it had nothing to do with them, because Paul said the end of the age was near. The end was not near when the epistle was written by Paul, but it is near now!
How is that for a hermeneutic? While this seems an extreme case, and is, the tragic reality is that far too many people, while recoiling from that explicitly stated hermeneutic, nonetheless apply it when reading and interpreting the Bible. They demand personal, contemporary, almost specific application to them, to today, to America, right here, right now!
While volumes could be written on this issue, and in fact, I have been working on a small book on hermeneutic for some time, I want to narrow my focus to an “argument” based on a fundamentally flawed hermeneutic. I am hearing this “argument” more and more by those seeking to avoid the power of Covenant Eschatology.
The argument under consideration was manifested recently in a FaceBook exchange. The exchange was based on some comments I, and other speakers, made during my speeches at the recent Preterist Pilgrim Weekend (July 18-20, 2013, in Ardmore, Ok.). I noted that the Garden of Eden was viewed by scholars and by ancient rabbis as the original Temple of God. The objector claimed that this was false, because the word “Temple” is not used in Genesis 1-3. So, per the objector’s hermeneutic, the absence of a given word means that the idea, the theme, the motif, the doctrine, is not there.
This similar hermeneutic is expressed by Dispensationalists when they argue that the word “church” is missing from Revelation 4-22. They likewise delineate between texts because certain words are used in one text, while they are missing from another. Thus, we have Thessalonians ostensibly predicting the rapture because it is Christ coming for the saints, while Matthew 24 is the Second Coming because it is Christ coming with the saints. (A closer look at the texts falsifies this false contrast however, as I demonstrate in my We Shall Meet Him In The Air, The Wedding of the King of kings book. Simply stated, there is no contrast between coming with the saints versus coming for the saints).
Kenneth Gentry rightly rejects the Dispensational hermeneutic. He says, “But how can this (the use of different words, or missing words in given texts, DKP) prove a distinction between the rapture and the second advent? Does not Walvoord admit a limited design for the passage: to comfort Christians concerning the resurrection of deceased loved ones? Why would Paul have to provide a whole complex of eschatological phenomena? The dispensational argument is one from silence, based on a preconceived theory” (He Shall Have Dominion, 2009, 286). We could hardly agree more. An argument from silence, i.e. a given word is missing in a text, is tenuous at the very best. And yet, what does Gentry do? Gentry delineates between texts and events, based on silence, i.e. the use of different words in given texts, with the attendant missing words!
For instance, in his comments on given Thessalonians texts, Gentry applies them to different events, based on the absence of certain words, or the use of different words. Notice the following:
1.) 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18– Gentry says this is the final coming of Christ at the end of human history. (Dominion, 1992, 387). Note that the word parousia is used in this text.
2.) 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10– Gentry says this text refers to a final future coming of Christ, because it speaks of, “‘everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord,’ being brought against the opposers of Christ.” (Interestingly, Mathison and other postmillennialists differ with Gentry on 2 Thessalonians 1. Mathison believes 2 Thessalonians 1 applies to AD 70. Keith Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, P and R Publishing, 1999)224+).
3.) 2 Thessalonians 2–Gentry applies 2 Thessalonians 2 to Christ’s judgment coming in AD 70. It must be noted that 2 Thessalonians 2 employs the word parousia, as does 1 Thessalonians 4.
What are Gentry’s reasons for delineating between these texts? Why, it is because certain words are missing, and because different words are used! So, while Gentry decries the millennialial hermeneutic of delineating between texts due to “silence” or the use of different words, one might well say to Dr. Gentry; “Thou art the man!”
The Millennialists say Thessalonians is different from other texts because it does not contain all the eschatological elements, i.e. silence, or gives different elements. Gentry cries “Foul!” Yet, Gentry says 2 Thessalonians 1 is a different coming of the Lord from that in 2 Thessalonians 1 because chapter 1 contains an element not found in chapter 2, i.e. the angels. Might we not ask: “Why would Paul have to provide a whole complex of eschatological phenomena?” Why would Paul have to mention every eschatological element in every text?
Gentry is not alone in both condemning this argument from silence, while at the same time applying that very hermeneutic! Noting the Dispensational argument that the word church is not found in Revelation, therefore, the Apocalypse must not be talking about the church at all, DeMar cites Gundry in response: “Unless we are prepared to relegate large chunks of the NT to limbo of irrelevance to the Church, we cannot make the mention or omission of the term ‘church’ a criterion for determining the applicability of a passage to saints of the present age.’” DeMar then adds: “Is the Bible interpretation based on word counts? The same reasoning process has been taken with the book of Esther: There can be no doubt that the historicity and canonicity of Esther has been the most debated of all the OT books. Even some Jewish scholars questioned the inclusion in the OT because of the absence of God’s name.’ If word counts are to be so heavily relied upon then Lindsey refutes himself. He finds the Antichrist all over the book of Revelation, but the word is nowhere to be found.” (Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness, Powder Springs, GA., American Vision, 1994, 184). So, like Gentry, DeMar condemns the Dispensational argument from silence, or the omission of given words. Well, it appears that he does so, but in truth, he embraces that very hermeneutic!
In spite of condemning (on page 184) the “argument from silence” utilized by the Dispensationalists, on page 318 of the same book, DeMar says, in justification for delineating between “comings” in Thessalonians, “For those who claim that it is (the gathering, episunagogee, being the rapture, DKP) we must ask why Paul would use a different word in his second letter to clear up a supposed misunderstanding about what the Thessalonians thought he meant concerning ‘our being caught up to him’ in his first letter. Why didn’t Paul write, ‘With regard to our being caught up to Him? The answer is quite obvious: Paul is discussing two separate events.”
So there you have it! The Dispensationalists are wrong to see two different comings in Matthew 24:29f and 1 Thessalonians, because different words are used, and because certain words are missing. But, we are supposed to see two different comings in Thessalonians because different words are used, and certain words are missing! To say that this is self contradictory is an understatement. We do, after all, have to engage in a word counts in the given texts!
In similar vein, in my 2012 formal debate with Joel McDurmon, Head of Research at American Vision (Gary DeMar’s organization) I appealed to Isaiah 24-27 among other texts. Paul said that the resurrection he anticipated and discussed in 1 Corinthians 15 would be in fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8. I provided extensive documentation to show that both Isaiah and Corinthians demand a first century fulfillment. Stunningly, McDurmon even admitted that there was a first century (AD 70) fulfillment of 1 Corinthians 15, because the language of the text contains elements of imminence that cannot be ignored. This admission is simply stunning, needless to say, for no church fathers, no church creed contains a word about such a doctrine! My debate with McDurmon is available in book form, DVDs and MP3s.
So, how did McDurmon seek to escape the force of the texts in Isaiah and his own admission that 1 Corinthians 15 had a fulfillment in AD 70? Why, like Gentry, like DeMar (and other Dominionists) he adopted the Dispensational hermeneutic! He claimed, repeatedly, “I don’t see the word ‘final’ in Isaiah.”
In response, I noted several facts:
Acts 1 omits (i.e. is silent) certain words, contains different elements and uses different words, than does Thessalonians. Yet, McDurmon says these are the same comings in view. Of course, significantly, neither one of these texts uses the term “final coming,” either!
1 Thessalonians 4 uses totally different language than does 2 Peter 3, or Revelation 20, and does not contain the word “final” but of course, McDurmon, Gentry, DeMar, et. Al, see all of these texts as speaking of the “final” and same coming.
When I pointed all this out, and made the point that, “you cannot screw down apocalyptic language” in such a way, amazingly, McDurmon got up and said that was the very point he was making! Of course, this is nonsense. The fact is that he was completely trapped, and was so desperate to avoid the obvious that he falsely claimed that I was making his point. His desperation was glaring.
McDurmon had incorporated the very principle that he said was wrong. And to make matters worse for him, in response to one of his arguments on no marrying and giving in marriage, I had noted that Paul was dealing with those who were taking that language literally in 1 Corinthians 7, and posing the question that if the New Creation had broken in, should they remain married? Paul’s rejection of their literalistic ideas falsified McDurmon’s argument, so what did he do?
He immediately resorted, again, to the very principle that he said was wrong, i.e .screwing down the language, by arguing that missing words means a missing doctrine! He said that because he does not see “New Creation” in 1 Corinthians 7, this means it is not what Paul was discussing.
Do you see the problem? To argue that missing words, or even different words in given texts demands different would demand many, many comings of Christ at different times. As I demonstrate in my lengthy examination of this dangerous hermeneutic in my We Shall Meet Him book, and as suggested just above, this hermeneutic would demand that Acts 1 is different from Acts 24, which must be different from Thessalonians which must be different from Peter, which must be different from Corinthians which must be different from Revelation! And, of course, none of these texts can be referent to a “final coming” because, as I noted in my debate with McDurmon, the word “final” does not appear in any of them! This hermeneutic is, in a word, nonsensical.
What right to we have to limit or to restrict a writer from using different words to describe the same event? What journalistic principle or rule says that because a writer does not use every single element in every place that he describes a given event, that he must be describing different events? What interpretative rule or principle demands even that different writers must use every word, and the same word, and every element used by other writers, to speak of the same event?
Of course, there are no such journalistic or hermeneutical rules like those being used by the writers cited above. As Gentry correctly noted, the reason the Dispensational writers use that principle is due to preconceived theological ideas and doctrines. But, that is precisely what has driven Gentry, DeMar, McDurmon and others to use that very principle.
If you admit, for instance, that 1 Corinthians 15 had a fulfillment in AD 70, or, as DeMar does,* that Romans 8 demanded an imminent fulfillment, or that 2 Thessalonians 1 was in AD 70 (per Mathison, McDurmon, etc.) then you must have some way, some how, to maintain your preconceived futurist eschatology! And the only way to do it is to adopt the very hermeneutic that you condemn in others. The only way you can maintain a futurist view is to claim that missing words exclude certain doctrines, that different words demand different comings. But you must do so, hoping that those you have condemned for using that hermeneutic don’t catch onto what you have done! One can rightly imagine that the Dispensationalists shake their heads in disbelief at the inconsistency of the Dominionists.
(* Commenting on Romans 8:18f DeMar says: “The New American Standard translation does not catch the full meaning of this passage. Following Robert Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible, we read, ‘For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed in us.’ Whatever the glory is, it was ‘about to be revealed’ (see Revelation 2:10; 3:2, 10; 10:4; 12:4; 17:8). Peter tells his readers that the ‘Spirit of glory and of Christ rests on you’ (1 Peter 4:14). This was a present condition, not something that the people in Peter’s day would have to wait for a future rapture.” (Last Days Madness, 1994, 191).
I think the reader can see that there is a hermeneutic at work in the futurist camp that is simply wrong. There is no justification for it. Utilizing that principle futurists grossly contradict themselves and each other. They condemn each other for using that principle, all the while using it themselves.
We must seek to synthesize the entire story of eschatology. We must have an inclusive, cohesive, coherent hermeneutic. Only Covenant Eschatology provides that.
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