Probably one of my biggest objections early on to accepting a fulfilled, covenantal view of the Bible and its prophecy was the fact that the body of Christ in general has never held this view as orthodox. While that point alone seems to refute covenant eschatology almost single-handedly as a prima facie argument, there are two very good reasons why this argument utterly fails to accomplish that goal. Let’s now address and discuss these issues and help you to begin opening your eyes to see the scriptures in a much brighter light than you have ever before experienced.
1. AUDIENCE RELEVANCE
When we read literature, whether it’s the Bible or some other piece if literature (and the Bible most certainly is literature), we almost automatically insert ourselves into the text as if we are the intended audience to whom the author has written. It is my belief that this “self-embedding” into the text merely reflects our otherwise great ability for feeling empathy towards others and is not necessarily a bad thing, except where understanding the Bible and interpreting prophecy is concerned.
What we fail to comprehend, as we read the pages of scripture, is that the writers were most often writing to a very specific audience in their own day. Quite literally, we are reading someone else’s mail and that mail is, at a minimum, at least 2000 years old if not 3500 years old in some cases. There are many interpretational problems associated with failing to consider the fact that, while the Bible was written for us, it was not written directly to us.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, or Galatia some 2000 years ago, was he consciously writing to us today? Or was he addressing those specific people facing their specific issues of trials and tribulations? Well, in some manner he was writing to us, but only insofar as God’s spiritual truths transcend temporal time, space, and distance to the general body of Christ. However, for most practical purposes, especially where Biblical Interpretation is concerned, we must remain cognizant that Paul and all the other writers of the Old and New Testaments were writing specifically to and for the people of their day. Failure to keep the sound hermeneutic of Audience Relevance in mind will result in serious doctrinal errors and misinterpretations of Bible prophetic statements.
This fact is particularly true in regard to the prodigious time statements concerning the imminency of Messiah’s 2nd coming specifically within the 1st century. These statements were made repeatedly (over 100 times) by Messiah and his apostles throughout the New Testament. By imagining ourselves to be the audience to whom these statements are made, we completely miss and discount the glaringly obvious message which can have no other possible meaning except that Christ and his apostles believed and preached that his return and the “end of the age” would occur in their 1st century generation. Once this message was missed by the early church following the great apostasy which occurred just prior to and during the fall of Jerusalem, a futurist eschatological paradigm then became the “orthodox view” of the church and the rest is history.
The second “blinder” which invisibly plagues our thinking and hampers our ability to interpret scripture is that we are born into a largely Grecian, Hellenized culture and mindset. Hellenism, of course, refers to the influence of ancient Greek philosophy and culture, which spread throughout the Mediterranean world after the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. By the time of Christ, the process and effects of Hellenization had spread to every part of the Roman Empire, also known as the “habitable earth.” Today, you can read any World History text and understand how Hellenization continues to have a profound effect on most every culture and society today, particularly American and European societies.
Being the products of modern western society with a decidedly Grecian mindset and worldview, Americans in particular have a predilection for interpreting the Bible in highly systematic, scientific, intellectual terms and filtering doctrinal understanding according to Greek culture and the metaphysical philosophies of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. By contrast, the Hebraic mindset is another world apart from that of the Greek philosophers. This quote by William Barrett from Irrational Man perfectly outlines the immense differences between the Grecian and Hebraic mindsets:
“The distinction…arises from the difference between doing and knowing. The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek. Duty and strictness of conscience are the paramount things in life for the Hebrew; for the Greek, the spontaneous and luminous play of the intelligence. The Hebrew thus extols the moral virtues as the substance and meaning of life; the Greek subordinates them to the intellectual virtues…the contrast is between practice and theory, between the moral man and the theoretical or intellectual man.”
The immense difficulties we face in our interpretation of the holy Scriptures laboring under a decidedly Grecian mindset and bias go almost unperceived among the general church membership today. I had never been made aware of anything of this nature in my first 40 years of being a church member. Never once in the many sermons, bible studies, or Sunday School classes I attended was this issue ever addressed. In fact, the Old Testament Scriptures were rarely ever taught other than occasional references to the Psalms or as an incidental reference to develop some New Testament church doctrine. More focus was put on understanding the Greek words of the New Testament, rather than trying to understand Hebraic culture or the mindset of the Hebrew prophets.
One of the greatest areas for misinterpretation of Scripture lies in our almost universal failure to understand the apocalyptic, highly metaphoric nature of the Hebrew prophetic writing style. Almost without fail, western Grecian minds will interpret things completely the opposite of the Hebrew writers. Not understanding the uniquely Hebraic idioms and mindset, we erroneously interpret passages meant to be taken metaphorically and apocalyptically as having literal, physical interpretations. Conversely, we sometimes interpret purely historical narratives and other non-metaphoric passages in allegorical and apocalyptic ways.
Although both extremes are possible, I think the most profound errors come when highly metaphoric, prophetic scriptures are misinterpreted in overtly literal, physical terms, particularly where the eschatological passages of books like Daniel, Ezekiel, and the Revelation of John are concerned. As a result, we have utterly failed to discern some of the most important prophetic utterances given to mankind about the establishment, timing, and nature of God’s eternal Kingdom. As God’s ambassadors, we must have the best and most accurate information about the Kingdom we represent if we are to lead others to the truth of God’s word and his Grace sufficiently to encourage people to enter this Kingdom. Zeal alone is not sufficient…we must have a zeal according to correct knowledge as revealed in Bible prophecy. When a proper assessment of our condition as scriptural exegetes is obtained, we find ourselves laboring heavily under the combined spiritual blinders of a profound universal ignorance of principles of Audience Relevance and the differences between the Hebraic and Grecian mindsets.
In order to remove our acquired spiritual blinders and begin to interpret scripture in the light of God’s truth, we have to be willing to go deeper in study and acknowledge our modern acquired deficiencies. No longer can we afford to interpret scripture using the ineptitude of a singular hermeneutic based entirely on the uneducated mantra: “God’s word says what it means and means what it says.” This is a completely juvenile approach to understanding God’s word which wholly fails to acknowledge that we do not live in the same world as those inspired Hebrew men who wrote the scriptures.
As you move through the pages and posts of this blog, you will find that every post is designed to move you forward in your understanding of the profoundly Hebraic mindset and how it affect our understanding of God’s message of redemption and reconciliation to mankind under the Kingdom of Christ our Messiah.
For a very good starting place to begin grasping some of the differences between the Hebrew and Greek mindsets, please visit the reposted article from Brian Knowles at this LINK.