The Protestant Reformation
10-1-17 Genesis 15:18-21 Lesson 13
Let me open us up in a word of prayer and we’ll get started. Father, we’re thankful for this morning and waking us up this morning and giving us a new day to serve You and learn about You. I pray You’ll be with us during Sunday School and the church service that follows and the time at the Lord’s Table and during the fellowship lunch that follows. I just pray that Your Spirit will be at work and edifying us and fortifying us and feeding us. So we invite You to do these great works today in Your church. And we lift up these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said.. Amen.
All right, I’m going to try to land the plane, this study has been going on for a while on the Protestant Reformation. You can open up to the Book of Genesis if you have a copy of your Bible with you; Genesis 15 and verses 18-21. My goal is to finish this series by next week so if you’re here with us for the first time we’re doing a study on the Protestant Reformation and of course it’s now October, isn’t it, today is October 1 isn’t it, so we only have 30 days left until the 31st comes. And you say well, tell me something I don’t know, I know it’s going to be Halloween. Well, I’m talking about something more significant than Halloween, October 31st will be the 500th year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Thesis to the Cathedral Door in Wittenberg, Germany, which launched what we call The Protestant Reformation.
So to help us sort of appreciate that we started a study on that and here’s the outline that we’ve been using. We started with the early church, and the baton of truth that was passed off from the apostles to the first Christians. And particularly in the area of prophecy those folks for the first two centuries of the church took the Bible in a literal sense and they developed a school up north in Syrian, Antioch, and that became sort of the place where people were taught, people were trained, and the literal method of interpretation is alive and well for the first two centuries of the church.
But then really beginning around the fourth century, and it was formalized really with the writings of Augustine, there was a rival school that was developed in Alexandria, Egypt, down south, and they developed not the literal method of interpretation, which Antioch practiced, but they developed the allegorical method. So we’ve talked about all that, what the allegorical method is, why we don’t think it’s an acceptable method. But sadly what you discover in church history is Alexandria, Egypt won the day and the church is engulfed in allegorization right up until really the 16th century, just prior to the Protestant Reformation. And that’s a period of time that we call the Dark Ages. Some people refer to them as the Middle Ages. But because of allegorization and a lot of other factors that we’ve talked about the net effects of the Dark Ages, which last for over a thousand years in church history, is the Bible that we take for granted is removed from the people.
The people, first of all, couldn’t read in many cases, and secondly, they were told they couldn’t understand it for themselves because they weren’t schooled in the so-called science of allegorization emanating from Alexandria, Egypt. So this put the sheep (God’s people) in a very vulnerable position during this time and they were taken advantage of by the ecclesiastical hierarchy and they were sold… there’s what’s called the sale of indulgences, and this is really what upset Martin Luther probably more than anything else. When the coin in the coffer rings the soul from purgatory springs, and so this became like a money-making racket for the church. And of course you don’t have a Bible to critique what’s being said.
So this takes us to Roman Numeral IV, The Contribution of the Protestant Reformation. And what the Reformers accomplished is they brought back to Christianity the authority of Scripture in five areas that we call the five what? Five solas, and that’s really the great thing that happened beginning with Martin Luther nailing his 95 Thesis to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany.
But, as we have studied, the Protestant Reformers hermeneutical, you know what hermeneutics is, right? It just means interpretation. The Reformers hermeneutical interpretation was incomplete. They took the literal method in certain areas but they didn’t apply it to the whole Bible consistently. And they fossilized the progress that they had made in the form of a creed so the creeds then become the authority rather than the Bible. And therefore the new theology that they started, called Reformed Theology, the new churches that they started, the new institutions of learning that they started steeped in Reformed Theology (and I’ve given you many, many examples of this) to this day remains in this state of fossilization. Reformed theology is kind of a hybrid; it’s Protestant in the area of the five solas but it’s basically Roman Catholic in the area of eschatology, as amillennialism continues to reign in their system.
So what you have in Reformed Theology, and I gave you a ton of quotes just to prove my point, and I try not to repeat information but I did run across these two quotes, this one and the following, from William Hendricksen, just to show you how Reformed Theology gets into the Book of Revelation and suddenly there are careful rules of grammar and precision and literal interpretation that they use to rescue the church in the area of the five solas. They basically discard that method and it’s almost anything goes.
So notice this quote from William Hendricksen, a very Reformed, and he writes: “The expression ‘a time, and times, and half a time’ occurs first in the Book of Daniel 7:25; 12:7. It is the period of the antichrist. Now, John emphasizes the fact that the spirit of the antichrist is in the world already, 1 John 4:3. Hence, in the Apocalypse” that’s the Book of Revelation, “this period of three years and a half refers to the entire gospel age.” [WM. Hendriksen – Baker Book House – 1967 – Chapter 9 – p.174]
So what he’s saying here is the expression “time, times and a half a time” which you can very easily show is three and a half years, really doesn’t mean three and a half years; it refers to the whole period of time that we’ve been in for 2,000 years where the gospel has been preached. So you can see what he’s doing here; his literal method of interpretation just got discarded in the area of interpreting prophetic literature.
Now Hendricksen makes this comment on page 174 and then if you keep reading his book, same book, and you get to page 226, which is not that far from page 174, page 226 he says, “‘Hence, in close harmony with all these Scriptural passages – and our exegesis must always be based upon the authority of Scripture! – we conclude that also here in Rev. 20:1-3 the binding of Satan and the fact that he is hurled into the abyss to remain there for a thousand years indicates that throughout this present Gospel Age, which begins with Christ’s first coming and extends nearly to the second coming, the devil’s influence on earth is curtailed so that he is unable to prevent the extension of the church among the nations by the means of an active missionary program.” [WM. Hendriksen – Baker Book House – 1967 – Chapter 14 – p.226]
And the quote goes on, but you see what he just did here? First of all, three and a half years he told us on page 176, is the gospel age. All right, so far so good…actually not very good at all because that’s not what three and a half years means, right. Then you get into page 226 and then he says the expression, a thousand years mentioned in the Book of Revelation is really the gospel age. So he’s got two numbers that contradict each other and he’s trying to take two numbers, three and a half, found in Daniel 7 and Daniel 12, and then the number a thousand found in Revelation 20 and he’s trying to say that both numbers equal the gospel age. So not only is he contradicting himself in the same book but he is dispensing with the literal method of interpretation that his movement so carefully used to rescue the church in the area of the five solas.
And I’ve given you many, many quotes to this effect and this is basically common in Reformed circles under what’s called Covenant theology. And so the Reformed movement, as I understand it, is almost incapable of developing further progress. It’s stuck in that state and it’s been stuck in that state, really ever since the Protestant Reformers passed off the scene. And so they will take certain passages in the Bible, like the Book of Romans, the Book of Ephesians, the Book of Galatians, the record of Jesus Christ and His life on the earth and the Gospels and all of the numbers that are mentioned in those books, like Christ was twelve years old and went into the temple, or the ministry of Jesus Christ, you can sort of see based on the chronological markers in the Gospels the ministry of Jesus Christ lasted roughly three years, a little over three years. Jesus had twelve disciples, that number is literal. And on and on we could go.
They’ll take all those numbers literally, but then you get to the Book of Daniel and they get to the Book of Revelation and suddenly the literal method of interpretation disappears and numbers become whatever you want them to be, to the point where these guys in print are contradicting themselves constantly. That is the state of the Reformed movement today.
So what I believe God began to do, and this takes us to Roman numeral VII, and this is the part of the study that we haven’t looked at yet, what God began to do to complete the revolution begun by the Protestant Reformers is He started to reach outside the Reform movement. In some cases he used men and women within the Reformed movement to basically finish the job that the Protestant Reformers started. And that is, I think a pretty accurate way of looking at Reformed theology today; it’s in a state of incompletion. It’s like a half-baked meal. And the entire church throughout the dark ages is steeped in allegorization. The Reformers rescued the church from allegorization in some areas and we praise the Lord for that, and they did it with great risk to their own personal lives. And so we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Protestant Reformers. But they left other parts of the Bible steeped in allegorization.
So what does God have to do to finish the revolution begun by the Protestant Reformers? He has to raise up other people and that is, I believe, largely what God is doing with the dawning of the dispensational movement beginning in the 19th century, really taking root in the 19th century. So I want to basically compare very quickly the Reformed movement and what it accomplished and what’s undone to the dispensational movement which is what we’re a part of here at Sugar Land Bible Church and how that movement completed the unfinished work of the Protestant Reformers.
First of all, Reformed theology really starts to come to influence in the 16th century. We have to give the Protestant Reformers a lot of credit because they had the right tool that they used to rescue the church in the five solas, the literal method of interpretation. The downfall of the Protestant Reformers and that movement is they applied the right tool to only some of the Bible. And so the churches today that trace their spiritual lineage directly back to the Protestant Reformers are stuck in that same vein, literal in some areas but very allegorical in other areas.
But the Protestant Reformers deserve credit because they showed us the right tool, which is the literal method of interpretation, in terms of rescuing the church because they successfully, and I’ve given you many, many quotes from Luther and Calvin and others how they used the literal method of interpretation to retrieve from the Dark Ages something that the Bible taught in the area of the five solas.
Just by way of review, you know the five solas by now, right? These are all Latin expressions: Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, Sola Christus, Christ alone, Sola Fide, faith alone, Sola Gratia, grace alone and then Soli Deo Gloria, to the Glory of God alone. And that is the contribution of the Protestant Reformers. And most of the presentations that you’re going to hear on the Protestant Reformation, and you’re going to start hearing a lot of them as we get closer to October 31st, just out there in the world and also in the church, they’re going to stop the study at that point. But I sort of felt the need to continue on with history and to show you that the groundwork that the Protestant Reformers laid, which was very significant, God had to raise up other people to continue to apply that method to the totality of God’s Word. And that’s the significance of the dispensational movement.
So the dispensational movement starts, not in the 16th century, it starts in the 19th century. And all the dispensational movement did is it took the Reformers hermeneutic, or their method of interpretation and they desire to apply it, not to some of the Bible but to the whole Bible. And one of the questions I’ve gotten as I’ve gone through this is people have asked me, you keep using this word, “literal method of interpretation,” and what exactly does that mean? When it says in the Bible that the mountains clapped do we actually see the mountains clapping? When it talks about the eyes of the Lord roam to and fro throughout the earth seeking someone whose heart is pure do we actually see God with eyeballs? Maybe He’d need a certain prescription to keep His eyes in focus.
And so there’s a lot of confusion about what literal method of interpretation means. Somebody, I think it was Bruce, asked me to address the statements that Jesus makes in the Sermon on the Mount, you know, if your right eye causes you to sin what should you do? You should cut it out. I mean, if you’re for a literal interpretation do we actually cut out our eyes. Well, the short answer to that one is no, because even if you cut out your eyes it wouldn’t fix the problem, would it? If your fantasizing about adultery or murder being blind doesn’t necessarily help, right? I can fantasize in the dark just like I can fantasize in the light.
So I think there Jesus is speaking more in a symbolic sense about dealing drastically with sin. But what does a literal hermeneutic mean? And here’s the definition from a Protestant Biblical interpretation by Bernard Ramm. You see, this is what the Reformers gave us, this is what they retrieved from the school of Antioch that had been buried for all of these centuries. And this is what the Reformers used to apply to the area of the five solas.
Bernard Ramm explains: A literal hermeneutic attaches to every word the same meaning that that word would have in normal usage, whether employed in speaking, writing or thinking. So you’re reading in the Bible and you come across the word “Bethlehem” and you don’t interpret it Bethlehem as Jerusalem; if you interpret the word Bethlehem as Jerusalem or some other city you’re not paying attention to what the text says. In other words, Bethlehem is going to carry the basic meaning that that word has, particular in biblical times, in ordinary writing, speaking or thinking. So you’re trying to put yourself in a position of the original audience and you’re trying to ask yourself how would they understand that basic term. Would they reinterpret it as something else? And our answer is no, they would have understood it in their ordinary sense because God’s goal at the end of the day is to do what? To communicate. And how can the communication process take place when we take things that God has said and we just apply our own meaning to them.
So we talk a lot about the literal, grammatical, historical, contextual method of interpretation. Literal, if you were to look up the word “literal” in the Oxford Dictionary, literally what literal means is by the letters. That’s what that word means. In other words, when you’re reading something in the Bible you’re interpreting what’s there rather than bringing a bunch of baggage from the outside and reinterpreting what’s there. Grammar… grammar matters, and God sovereignly chose to have the New Testament recorded in the Greek language and most of the Old Testament, with a couple of Aramaic sections God chose to have the Old Testament recorded in the Hebrew language. And so you’re trying to study those original languages and you’re paying attention to things like grammar, syntax, sentence structure, which is what you would do when you’re interpreting anything. Right?
If it’s in the Bible or not because once a message becomes encapsulated in linguistic form language has laws that govern it. Just like mathematics has laws, science has laws, biology has laws, engineering has laws, the legal world has laws (they probably have too many laws… in my opinion), but every discipline has laws that govern it and that’s how language functions. So immediately when God took his message and encapsulated it into the Bible, into linguistic form, certain laws take over to understand what God has said. And so your goal as an interpreter of the Bible is the same goal you have in interpreting anything else, whether it be the newspaper or what have you you’re interpreting what is being said according to the laws of language.
So literal, that’s what grammatical means, historical basically means that each book of the Bible was written in a historical context. We read about Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Well, we ask ourselves what era was that? Where was Paul when he wrote it? He was in Rome. Who was he writing to? He was writing to a group of people called the Ephesians at the church at Ephesus. How did they understand history? How did they understand language? So you’re basically transporting yourself backward in time and you’re trying to figure out with all of the historical aids that we have available today, how would the original recipients have understood this.
And we have literal grammatical historical, then we have contextual. In other words you’re trying to read things in their original context without sort of hop-scotching around and piecing things together that don’t belong together. So should we cut out our eyes because Jesus said if your right eye makes you sin pluck it out? The answer to that is no based on the context; in the Sermon on the Mount what is the context? What is Jesus dealing with there? If He dealing with severed body parts or is He dealing with something else? He’s dealing with the heart, isn’t he? He’s dealing with heart issues and He says if you’re unjustifiably angry with your brother you’re a murderer; if you are fantasizing about adultery you’re already an adulterer.
So these are heart issues and because these are heart issues Jesus is using a figure of speech called a hyperbole. What is a hyperbole? It’s a deliberate exaggeration to communicate an idea. And what Jesus is saying is deal with those issues in your life that are causing your heart to stumble dramatically. So if you’re on your computer and you keep looking at pornography you need to deal with the dramatically. Maybe you should not have a computer would be an application. Or maybe you should have somebody given authority to have accountability over your life where they can actually see the things you’ve been viewing all week. So that would be an application of what Jesus is saying concerning “pluck out your eye.” And I’m reaching those conclusions because I’m studying the Sermon on the Mount here in its proper context. The context is the heart.
So literal—take words in their ordinary sense. Grammatical—pay attention to the laws of language. Historical—seek to understand the history and the time frame in which these things were written. What would these things have meant to the original audience. And then contextual—you’re looking at things in their proper context. Then after you’ve done all that work then you develop your application. How does this truth that I’ve studied apply to my own life? How would I, as a preacher, apply these truths to other people’s lives. And that really is what the school of Antioch was teaching for the first two centuries and that’s what got lost and this is what the Reformers reclaimed in certain areas relative to the five solas.
We all know what a straw man fallacy is, right? A straw man fallacy is where you misrepresent your opponent’s position and then you tear down your misrepresentation. And if you want to see this in play just watch politicians do this; they do this all the time… if you vote for my opponent he’s going to steal your Social Security check, and everybody gets all scared and the fact of the matter is the poor guy never said anything about social security, but suddenly that is attributed to him and the fellow making the assertions then tears down the misconstruction he’s just created. So it’s a logical fallacy because you’re not dealing with what your opponent is actually saying, you’re dealing with your misrepresentation. And it’s called a straw man fallacy because a man of straw topples over very fast.
So as literal interpreters we get a straw man thrown at us all of the time. And the straw man is this: well, you guys don’t believe in figures of speech. You want to cut your eyes out, you want to cut out the eyes of other people… no I don’t because that’s a hyperbole there in Matthew 5, a figure of speech. You believe God has eyeballs; you believe the mountains clap. And in fact, you guys are so ignorant, remember this one heading, she showed me this on her phone, I said can I use that as an illustration, you guys are so ignorant when you read a sign that says “in case of fire take the stairs,” I mean, you’re actually taking the stairs out of the building and running off with them.
So whenever you stand up today and you begin to promote literal interpretation this is the straw man argument that will be hurled at you. The fact of the matter is every literal interpreter who’s written on this area that I can think of always makes room for figures of speech when they’re conspicuous in the text.
So Charles Ryrie, one of the great defenders of literal interpretation writes this: “Literal interpretation ‘…might also be called plain interpretation so that no one receives the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech.”’ [Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), 86.] So Ryrie was so badly misrepresented with the word “literal” that he just quit using the word even though the word makes sense when you understand what it’s saying. He started using the word plain because in plain language you can communicate literally or you can communicate figuratively.
And I want to introduce you to a book by E. W. Bullinger; I don’t agree with everything E. W. Bullinger said and wrote but he was a phenomenal intellect. He lived from 1837-1913 and the book I want to call your attention to is called Figures of Speech in the Bible. And I was going to bring it in today, kind of like show and tell, but I forgot it, but when you hold it up it’s a thousand pages. And it’s a wonderful book because he identifies every possible figure of speech you can have in the whole Bible, even figures of speech you may have never even heard of. He talks about simile, about comparison of two things with the expression like or as. Metonymy, a comparison of two things (if I remember right) without the words like or as. Hyperbole, deliberate exaggeration to get across an idea. Personification, ascribing to an inanimate object, like when it talks about the earth is groaning in Romans 8 we don’t put our ear to the ground and actually hear an audible groan. It’s a personification where he is, Paul there in Romans 8, is ascribing to an inanimate object the earth, a living quality.
And he goes on and on like this for a thousand pages identifying every possible figure of speech. And you can see when he lived, 1837-1913 and guess what? His book is still the standard book on this subject, to this very date, 2017. So you know you’ve done a good job in your book if number one, it’s a thousand pages. And number 2, it outlasts your lifetime and is still the standard on the subject of figures of speech.
Now Bullinger, and I don’t agree with all of his conclusions but Bollinger stood on this idea of literal interpretation. So when somebody throws this straw man argument at you… oh, you believe in literal interpretation therefore you don’t believe in figures of speech… think of Bullinger and think of this book that he wrote. Literal interpreters are very sensitive to figures of speech. In fact, the greatest book ever written on figures of speech in the Bible comes from E. W. Bullinger.
Now here’s my slide that I borrowed from Earl Radmacher and I’m embarrassed to put it up because at the top I misspelled interpretation so here I’m talking about interpretation and I misspelled it so you guys can cross out that extra letter, I think there’s an extra “t” in there. But Earl Radmacher basically says all language has two parts to it. Whenever you try to communicate with somebody you’re communicating in one form or another form. And the two methods of communication are number 1, plain literal, and the other method of communication is figurative literal. Radmacher says, “literal interpretation is the explicit assertion of the words,” we would call that denotative language, and figurative literal is the literal interpretation is the specific intention of the figure. We would call that connotative language.
So anytime someone is communicating with someone they are only using one of two methods of communication; they’re either communicating denotatively, plain literal, or connotatively, what Radmacher calls figurative literal. So this morning my wife asked me how did you sleep. And I say I slept pretty good, I slept in till 8:30 a.m. (which is true, actually it was 8:38 a.m.) and I slept like a log. So you’ll notice that in that sentence I used both forms of communication. When I say to my wife “I slept in till 8:30 a.m.” what method of communication am I using? Plain literal or denotative. She doesn’t say to me well what do you mean by 8:30 or 8:38, is that some kind of secret code in there? She is an inherently language speaking being just as I am an inherently existing language speaking being and so she knows, generally, when I’m speaking literally or when I’m speaking figuratively. But right in the middle of the sentence I say I slept “like” a log and my wife doesn’t say well, our last name is Woods, and are you saying that you turned into a piece of wood in the middle of the night. She knows that I’m not saying that because of the word “like” or “as.” In other words, obviously I’m using a simile.
So generally what happens in communication is you try to just take the text for what it says until you discover something obvious in the text, like the word “like” or “as” or a few other clues which say well, wait a minute, they’re not communicating here literally but they’re communicating figuratively. And of course the danger is always trying to interpret somebody figuratively when they really want to be understood literally. Or interpreting someone inverse, they want to be understood figuratively and you interpret them literally. That’s the danger and that’s what has to be avoided.
So one time I took my coffee and I put it into my microwave oven and I forgot to turn the microwave oven off so the coffee was heating up and I was in the office in the other room, I’d forgotten that I had put the coffee in the microwave oven and the coffee cup starts to boil over. So my wife yells out to me, “honey, your cup is overflowing.” And I had forgotten I had left the cup in there and I said you know, my cup is overflowing, I mean, I am so blessed and God has blessed me and this kind of stuff. So that would be an example where she’s trying to be understood denotatively; I’m misunderstanding her as connotatively.
But the fact of the matter is you run that danger in any communication you have. And 99% of the time you can figure out what’s literal and what’s figurative and it’s the same issue you have in the Bible. Is the author wanting to be understood literally here or is the author wanting to be under-stood figuratively here. Generally speaking when the Bible wants to be understood figuratively it’ll give you a clue, just like my statement to my wife, “like” or “as” gives her a clue “I slept like a log” gives her a clue that I am speaking figuratively and not literally.
Notice Galatians 4:24, it’s speaking there of Sarah and Hagar and Paul says, “This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.” Now generally in the Bible the Sarah and Hagar story, Genesis 16, right in there and following, you take those two characters, Sarah and Hagar literally. But here in the New Testament Paul is using the two, Sarah and Hagar, to develop a spiritual idea. Now I am not free nilly-willy to go into the Bible and assign allegorized interpretations to historical events unless the what? The text tells me. What’s the giveaway word here? I have it underlined, “This is allegorically speaking,” aha, there’s my clue, the author is not wanting to be understood, in this case denotatively but he is wanting to be understood what? Connotatively.
And if I didn’t have that little phrase there, “allegorically speaking” I would have no permission to allegorize Sarah and Hagar. And when the Bible gives us permission to allegorize the Bible itself will give us the interpretation of the allegory. I can’t come in and just interpret the allegory any way I want based on my own sanctified imagination. I have to follow with the interpretation that the text gives. So you see how the game is played here this game of communication. You’re taking the text for what it says unless the text itself gives you a hint that the author is not wanting to be understood denotatively but connotatively; not plainly but figuratively.
Here’s another example in the Book of Revelation, chapter 11 and verse 8, it’s speaking of the two witnesses in the tribulation period, ““And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city” now at the end it identifies the great city, where “their Lord was crucified.” So what city would it be? The city of Jerusalem. But then John, in the Book of Revelation says I want to come alongside that truth and I want to add another meaning to it, the city is “mystically is called Sodom” Sodom I think would represent moral depravity, and the city is also mystically called “Egypt,” Egypt I think would represent bondage because that’s where the children of Israel were taken in the time of Moses for 400 years, into bondage. And so what John is doing is he is showing that it is the city of Jerusalem where these two witnesses are killed but this city is out of fellowship with God It’s an unbelieving city which is probably why the antichrist, the beast, comes on the scene and kills these two witnesses in the city streets of Jerusalem.
Now I would not have permission at all to come along with a subsequent mystical or allegorical interpretation unless I had this clue in the text which says what? “which mystically is called.” Do the expression, “which mystically is called” is my clue that I’m given another meaning to be added on top of the original one and allegorical meaning would be appropriate. The exact same thing in Galatians 4:24.
So I really like the way David Cooper, a great Bible scholar from a prior era, sums this up. He writes this: ““When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context,” things like mystically is called, things like allegorically speaking, “unless the facts of the immediate context studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.” [The World’s Greatest Library Graphically Illustrated (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1970), 11]
So you take the Bible based on its ordinary use of language unless there’s something in the text that tells you not to do that. And if you’re consistent with that from Genesis to Revelation guess what you’re doing? You’re allowing the authority to remain where? In the text. If you deviate from this method of interpretation and you just begin to spiritualize things that aren’t meant to be interpreted spiritually then the authority in the interpretive process transfers from the text to the mind of the interpreter.
And that’s exactly what’s going on with this battle of literal interpretation. The issue really what it comes down to is who is going to be in control here. And if you follow the issues going on with our Supreme Court it’s the exact same battle. On one end of the stick you have folks that want to interpret the Constitution according to the Founding Father’s 18th century intent. So how in the world would you do that? Well, you’ve got to study the era of the Founding Fathers which is not too far back, a little over 200 years. You’ve got to look at their writings, like The Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist papers. You have to understand what would Jefferson, the way he used language or James Madison, the way he used language, what would they mean by this statement?
And so there’s a school of thought, and I’m part of this school of thought that when judges interpret the Constitution that’s what they ought to do; they ought to derive its meaning and then once they have its meaning based on the literal grammatical historical contextual methods of interpretation then you take that meaning, which is fixed and stable, and you apply it to the facts before you.
But there’s a whole other school of thought that tells us well, the Constitution is really a living document. What do they mean by that? Well, it means whatever a judge says it means. So they are given freedom to simply rewrite the document according to what they think it says or should say. So that’s why some of the key cultural issues of our day, the abortion issue, the banning of Bible reading and prayer in the schools, the whole issue there is it’s a battle of who is interpreting the Constitution and what philosophy are they using.
See, if my school of thought was prevailing there wouldn’t be abortion on demand in this country. Why would I say that? Because you can’t find abortion in the Constitution and in fact, when the Constitution was ratified by the various states every single state had on their books at the time pro-life legislation protecting the unborn. So there is no way you could ever infer that the United States Constitution guarantees a woman a right to terminate her pregnancy. But my school of thought, unfortunately, doesn’t prevail most of the time. The school of thought that prevails is the guys that come along and say well, you know, you’re very naïve, and you need to see this as a fluid document, a flexible document, a living document.
Now I’m in favor of a living document; what I mean by “living document” is I’m taking the fixed meaning and reapplying it over and over and over again. That makes the document alive. What they mean by it is the meaning changes; the meaning that you’re applying that itself changes over and over again. And so the reason there’s a great tension on this issue is the battle of who’s going to be in control here. Is it the values of America’s Founding Fathers, or is it the 21st century values of some judges who happen to cobble together five votes.
And if you can understand that debate that is exactly the debate that is happening in the Bible; this is the exact battle that the Protestant Reformation fought. The issue is who is going to be in charge? If you follow consistently the literal, grammatical, contextual, historical method of interpretation whenever you can you are enthroning this Book over and over again. That’s something I want to do because the last time I checked who gave us this Book? God. So who am I to rewrite God? You know, when Moses was given the Ten Commandments Moses didn’t say to God, well, You gave ten but You interpret ten Your way and I’m going to interpret ten my way. That would be putting Moses in charge, right? We don’t want that, we want God to be in charge. And the more you deviate from this method is the more you’re enthroning your own mind rather than what the text says.
So the battle of consistent literal interpretation, if you really want to cut through all the minutia it’s a battle of authority and who’s going to be in charge. So kind of summing up Cooper, “When the plain sense makes good sense seek no other sense lest you wind up with” what? “nonsense.” And even if you don’t want to commit Cooper’s definition to memory you can commit that one to memory and you just consistently use that no matter what part of the Bible you’re in. If you’re in the solas you use that. If you’re in Genesis 1-11 you use that method. If you’re in the Book of Revelation or the Book of Daniel and you come across phrases like a thousand years or three and a half years you keep using that method and as you do that you’re going to come away with what God has said rather than what we think God ought to have said.
So I like this quote here from Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889, now he is writing this a few centuries after the Protestant Reformation. And he writes this: “‘literal if possible,’ is, I believe the only maxim that will carry you right through the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation.’” And to that I say amen. All Bonar did is take the hermeneutical principle espoused by the Protestant Reformers and say let’s just take this baby and apply it to the whole Bible. The Protestant Reformers, and I’ve given you the reasons why they didn’t do that, did not do that and Reformed Theology today does not do that. But God raised up a new movement, the dispensational movement beginning in the 19th century and they began to take the methodology of the Reformers and apply it to the whole Bible.
And so consequently the dispensationalists retrieved from the Bible key doctrines that had been lost because of allegorization, just like the Reformers used this methodology, literal, grammatical, historical, contextual to retrieve from the Bible doctrines that had been lost. What doctrines are the Reformers focusing on? The five solas. Well, the dispensationalists come along and say well let’s just take that method and apply it to the whole Bible and retrieve everything that was lost. So what comes roaring back is chiliasm, anybody remember what chiliasm means? That’s what the early premillennialists called themselves, at the school of what? Antioch.
So the belief in a future thousand year kingdom, which had been lost thanks to Augustine and allegorization, chiliasm comes roaring back into the life of the church, not because of what the Protestant Reformers did. The Protestant Reformers rescued the church in five areas (the solas), but because of what the dispensationalists did. So the dispensationalists began to look at the Abrahamic Covenant, how it’s unconditional and unfulfilled and they began to look at the plot of land that I had you open up to which we probably won’t have time to read, you can read it on your own, Genesis 15:18-21, which is describing a plot of real estate that the nation of Israel will occupy starting from the River of Egypt all the way to the Euphrates, from roughly the Nile to the Euphrates River. [Genesis 15:18-21, “On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:  the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite  and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”]
And the dispensationalists started saying wait a minute, if we take that literally that’s never been fulfilled. Well therefore for it to be fulfilled and God can’t lie there must be a future kingdom whereby these things will be fulfilled and this develops into premillennialism which the school of Antioch had already taught the first two centuries called what? Chiliasm. And what you discover with dispensationalists is they are reversing Alexandria Egypt over and over again and getting back to what? Antioch up north. They not only retrieved chiliasm they began to retrieve the Israel/Church distinction. The Israel/Church distinction is completely lost in Reformed theology. I’ve given you some quotes from Charles Hodge last week indicating that effect.
But the more you begin to apply this literal, grammatical historical method of interpretation consistently what you start to see is Israel and the church are different. Israel means Israel; the church means the church. They are two separate trains running on different railroad tracks and oh my goodness, if they are separate trains running on different railroad tracks then maybe God is coming back for the church at a different time than He is coming back for Israel. And what develops out of the Israel/Church distinction is the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture.
Now the doctrines that I’m articulating here would have just laid dormant. They are lying dormant in Reformed theology because dispensationalists have applied the Reformer’s hermeneutic to the whole Bible these doctrines start to re-emerge. Just like the five solas would have remained dormant had the Reformers themselves not applied the literal method of interpretation to those areas.
So we see an Israel/Church distinction, we have a rapture, a tribulation period, Second Coming of Christ, a kingdom that follows and all of these things are the product of literal interpretation. The Reformed camp themselves admit this. They admit that if you interpret these things literally you’ll see these things but the battle with them is they don’t want to interpret them literally; they took literal interpretation to a certain point.
And what did dispensationalism do? It throws a wet blanket over a force that’s always at work in the world called anti-Semitism. If you go to Israel today the unbelieving Jews in Israel love dispensationalists. Why do they love dispensationalists? Because they recognize that we are in massive force in the United States of America that is very pro-Israel. We don’t agree with every little thing Israel does but we believe Israel has a purpose and a role, she has a right to her land and where do we derive these concepts from? We get them from the Bible. Well, why do some people get it from the Bible and other people don’t get it from the Bible? It relates to your consistent application of literalism.
And some of the experiments that I’ve shared with you that awry, like John Calvin, politically taking over a government in Geneva and putting to death theological objectors, other social experiments that have gone awry, like the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Our method of interpretation rescues the church from those terrible social experiments because to get those social experiments to work biblically you have to take passages relating to Israel and the Mosaic Law, Israel being a country and a nation, and apply them to the church. That’s what John Calvin was doing in Geneva. He was taking the Mosaic Law, he was applying it to the government there and he was actually putting to death, as the Mosaic Law says you are to do, certain people that had sinned or sins in their lives.
Now we come along and we say wait a minute, literal interpretation tells us that Israel and the Church are different. So if Israel and the Church are different I can’t come along to Israel’s Mosaic Law, which was given only to Israel, and willy-nilly apply it to the church. And so the church is kept on focus on what it’s supposed to be doing, which is the great commission, and not taking over countries and cultures and trying to impose the Law of Moses on people. And so we have key commentators that are very, very involved in doing exactly what I’ve tried to articulate.
I wish I had time to go into all these names in depth but you should know the name John Nelson Darby, who’s one of the heroes, one of the good guys; he is applying the Reformers literal years when all these folks lived. He is applying the Reformers literal method of interpretation to Bible prophecy and he’s seeing the Israel/church distinction and he’s seeing the doctrine of the pre-tribulational rapture.
If you’ve been tracking with us on Sunday mornings in Daniel you’re already familiar with Sir Robert Anderson who unlocked the secret of the seventy weeks of Daniel, which is what we’re teaching on right now on Sunday morning. And why did he do that? Because he said let’s take the Protestant Reformers literal method of interpretation and let’s apply it to the seventy weeks prophecy of Daniel.
Another name you should know is Cyrus Ingerson Scofield who gave us the Scofield Bible and it’s hard to under estimate the power of the Scofield Bible because it put the Bible in the hands of the laity with notes at the bottom. It made the Bible accessible to your average person with explanatory notes. Now most of the notes I agree with, there’s a couple I would probably do away with but what would happen is as the mainline denominations were going liberal people were picking up on this. That doesn’t sound right, my pastor is saying something in the pulpit that doesn’t sound right, because they had the Bible open with Scofield’s notes in it.
You should know the name William Eugene Blackstone who wrote a book called Jesus Is Coming, he was sort of like a forerunner of Hal Lindsay. Remember Hal Lindsay’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth? It became a runaway best seller; that’s basically what you have with Blackstone and his book, Jesus is Coming. Other heroes you should know would be Henry Allen Ironside and then probably one of my favorites, Lewis Sperry Chafer who started which seminary? Dallas Seminary.
So what I’m trying to get at is how the dispensational movement completed the hermeneutical movement begun by the Reformers. That’s the point I’m getting at. And next week we will wrap up the series, I just have a little tiny bit, believe it or not, to cover next week. And we’re just going to have, after I finish my monologue or my bore-log, whichever you want to refer to it, we’re just going to open the whole thing up to Q & A. So those of you that have questions there’s going to be ample time next week. You guys lost or confused or is this semi-helpful?
Let me close in a word of prayer. Father, we’re grateful for this morning; we’re grateful for Your Word and Your truth; we’re grateful for the historical forces that went before us to give us the heritage that we have. And I just pray that You would use this historical survey not to fill our minds with data alone but to make us good stewards of what we have been handed, many times through great sacrifice. Help us to be appreciative and thankful and help us to carry on the legacy. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said amen.