Lecture 16: Hermeneutics for Prophecy (Part 3) | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 16: Hermeneutics for Prophecy (Part 3)

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Hermeneutics for Prophecy (Part 3)


Now sometimes, people raise the question of what they call, a sensus plenior.  Is it possible that there is a deeper meaning w.r.t. a prophecy that the prophet was not aware of and that the New Testament writer was aware of.

I have two responses to that. The first is that may be true of a New Testament inspired writer, but if so it is always after the fact and it is useless for us to try and do it, because you and I are not inspired. And furthermore without the New Testament writers we would have never interpreted any of these passages that way. So if you realize how the New Testament prophet understands this Old Testament passage and you think you can do that, there is no way. No way I would have come to those conclusions. So it gives me a warning not to try a sensus plenior this way.

But the other thing and I think this is even more important. If you talk about a second meaning in Acts 2, that not only the coming of the Spirit but the end time, the cosmological signs refer to something else, the one thing you have to say is that those cosmological signs must at least also in some way apply to the present situation in which the writer Luke and Peter the preacher talks about this being fulfilled now on the Day of Pentecost.

If you once say this passage can in some way refer to what is happening in Pentecost you don’t need a sensus plenior.  The sensus plenior is usually to bail us out and say this can't apply to that.  Once you have agreed that in some way it does apply to this but it has a deeper meaning later on, you don’t need the later on deeper meaning at all.

Does that make sense? No. Okay.

Alright. I didn’t think it might. Makes good sense to me.  I think it is brilliant personally.

Alright let me try one more time. 

Many times you talk about a sensus plenior, a deeper meaning that the Biblical author was not aware of, so that in Acts chapter 2, when Peter is quoting the fulfillment of Joel, he talks about the Holy Spirit having come in fulfillment of Joel and that’s true. No problem with that.

But these later cosmic signs he is not aware of, has a deeper meaning where we are aware of that will take place in the end time. However in some way we have to admit, since we are a sensus plenior type of people, that those verses do have some relevance for the day of Pentecost. And once you have admitted that, then you say this can be interpreted in light of the day of Pentecost, you don’t need a sensus plenior for those verses right? And every time you do that, the sensus plenior doesn’t seem to have any necessity anymore.

Dr. Stein: Your hand has been up.

Student: This is a similar question relating to a verse like 2 Chronicles 7:14 It seems to me some Christians in America logically assume that this is God’s land and if we repent, God is going to heal it. It looks to me that things are going to be a lot worse before they get better. So when people quote this, they are taking something meant for a totally different group of people and trying to make it fit today. 

Dr. Stein: I think you are right. It refers primarily back then to that people. But let me suggest that there could be an implication for that. If any time a nation repents and turns to the Lord, the Lord will heal that land.  I just think that God was willing to do that with Israel, because it was His people, but I think He would do that for anyone, so that if any nation ever gets to the place where as a nation, they turn to God in this way, I would think that, that would take place.  But I think we use that rather flippantly and I am kind of pessimistic about that for my own country.

Sorry but I am.

Student: What do you do with passages in the Old Testament that appear to be pointing to Christ but New Testament authors don’t make that connection for you.  Are you safe in the assumption that the church has always held?

Dr. Stein: Tend to be very conservative and say that if the New Testament writers lived by the Spirit don’t make these clear, I am not so sure that I am right.

Student: And there doesn’t appear to be any historical connection. I’m thinking of passages like Isaiah 53. 

Dr. Stein: Yeah, I tend to be conservative on that. I think for instance that Jesus is probably quoting Psalm 22 at His crucifixion, not necessarily that this is the fulfillment of a prophecy, Psalms are not always often that prophetic. I think it reflects His experience and He can identify with it and the implication of what that - the Psalmist experienced, He too is experiencing. That’s the way I would look at that.

I think there was a hand here now. 

Student: Going back to your referenes to passages in Revelation. Some things you said are different than what I was taught.

Dr. Stein: Goes against everything I had learned when I became a Christian.  Not everything but a lot.

Student: Let me give you a scenario and that you can answer for me so I can better understand. On a spectrum, one side meaning, this passage means there will be peace in Heaven and this meaning there will be literal walls this thick, and somewhere in the middle meaning there might be a gate in Heaven. How do we understand this? It would seem like if it were just peace in Heaven, commentaries on the Book of Revelation would be 10 pages long and it would serve its point.

Dr. Stein: It would be nice wouldn’t it? I tend to be on the extreme that there is peace in Heaven. I think all of the description is an attempt to use emotive language to try to draw us into an understanding – I think Heaven will be the fulfillment of all of our hopes and everything that is good we want, will take place. God has placed something within our hearts that long for this and it will find its fulfillment and then some in Heaven.

Other places talk about the Beatific Vision that you will see God. Faith to turn to sight and so forth.  So I think the Book of Revelation is primarily a – an impressionistic painting of what Heaven is going to be like.

I use that illustration by the way in the book, that the Prophets, when they paint pictures for us are not using Kodak 35 mm cameras with very exacting film and showing us a picture. If you go to the old museums in Europe and you go to 16th century art, it is amazing, the detail of the art. You can see this man down the road and he is two miles away and say He is missing a button. I have been told that some of the artists had brushes of a single hair so that be so detailed in it.

Now when you get to the end of the 19th century, art is not like that anymore. Maybe it is because with cameras you don’t need to try to simply reduplicate that kind of thing. And there is an impressionistic painting and if you get real close to a 16th century art piece, you can see fine detail, but if you get real close to an impressionistic painting, you see just clumps of paint and you need to get back and look at the impression of that piece of art.

I think prophecy is much more like this impressionistic art than the Kodak 35 mm camera. 

Student: What about the Lake of Fire and the New Heaven and the New Earth? Why is he switching back and forth? What you say about the [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: Alright you have the Lake of Fire that is dark. Dark fire. Right away it doesn’t fit. What you are doing is talking about the horrors of Hell. And how – a lake of fire portrays that horrible situation. Darkness is bad.  So you have a heap of these things.  If our idea of Heaven that we have now doesn’t match what takes place, what takes place will be a lot better. And if our understanding of Hell doesn’t correspond, it will be a lot worse.

So not being able to visualize it exactly doesn’t mean that there is no reality out there that we need to be aware of. We need to very much in aware of that. Uh. Your hand in here.

Student:  My question [Hard to Hear] in that last slide you have what prophecy means, then you went through those Scripture reference[Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: What I was trying to point out – it didn’t mean literally, animals or no animals admit the peace, no less than tranquility of Heaven.  

Student: With regard to apocalyptic prophecy you have got groups that say that all of the Book of Revelation or most of it was fulfilled within the year 70 A.D. Then you have a more Dispensational crowd that would say that it is all yet to come or at least when after John is done addressing the churches and then much of 1924 is also futuristic. Given the way the New Testament writers interpreted certain prophesies as near and far fulfillment or a greater or lesser such as the prophecy with Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz and the birth of [Hard to Hear] sign in Isaiah 7. Is there not room for – and later on Matthew uses that to apply the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, where you have got a historical fulfillment in Isaiah’s time and then a fulfillment in [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: Are there two separate sensus plenior? Is there something of an implication flowing out of that? I am not an expert in Isaiah now. I would be just talking from the top of my head on those things.  I don’t have an answer to every prophecy.  I am trying to give you something of an overall understanding of the figurativeness of the language. Give you a rule for instance about judgment prophesies that even when they don’t say “repentance will nullify that prophecy,” it is there. You use some introduction to this kind of genre of prophecy.

If you are asking me to give you an answer to every specific prophecy, you are disappointed. You are doomed that way at this point because I don’t know it.  It is not my area of expertise. I am just giving you a feel and hopefully you will have some of that.

Now let me - if there is a last question, I will try to entertain it but – yeah. I made no pretension of being an expert in this area.

Why this language? Sun being darkened, moon turning into blood and all these prophesies of judgment.  I don’t there is an answer you can be dogmatic and say, [Hard to Hear] this way, but let me tell you a little story.

My wife and I when our children were little took a train ride from Minneapolis to St. Paul, all the way across the Rockies to uh, Seattle. And we thought it would be a good experience for the children to do so. Then we took a ferry from Seattle over to Victoria on Vancouver Island and spent some time with my wife’s sister and family. On the way back, we took the ferry back, and as we were sitting aboard the ferry, I heard some women on the deck further over talking in German so I went over and I introduced myself to them.

And they said, “Well… what kind of … what are these things out there?” and there were some porpoises jumping around and we told them about that and so forth. So we began to talk. I said “Where do you come from in Germany?” She said, “I come from Hamburg.” And I said, “Oh. Were you in Hamburg in 1943 when the city was bombed so badly?”  Hamburg was bombed for one week steady. A 1,000 British bombers would come at night and during the day, a 1,000 American bombers and that went on for 7 days.

And the city experienced what was known as a firestorm which they had never seen before.  People would run out into the streets to try to escape the building and the streets of asphalt were on fire and they would get stuck in it and they would just burn death that way and over a 100,000 people died in the city.

She said, “Oh. Yes. I was there. We lived out a little outside the city.” And then she said this, “Do you know that for two weeks, we never saw the sun?”

Is it possible that the scene of judgment on a city is due to the burnings of the city in which the sun and the moon turn to blood when you look at them? And so you have maybe the scene of a war in which a city is destroyed becoming now part of that imagery being used of judgment that way. So, maybe that way, I am not sure. I wouldn’t put too much of an emphasis on it. But seemed to have made sense to me in that time.

Alright we have time for using terminology. Five. We will do that and then we will call it a day. My voice is just about shot.  Appreciate your bearing with my voice at this time. Thank you.

Alright once again, using terminology in the basic guide.  What do people mean when they say the following?

1. Probably Ezekiel was not thinking of this but it seems to be applicable.  Implication. Ok.

Paul evidently teaches by these words that even though the Roman Christians were ruled by an unbelieving emperor, they should obey him.

Student: Interpretation.

Dr. Stein: Interpretation. Yeah. Interpretation, not implication. Now why?

Student: [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: Yeah. You are talking about a situation back then.  If you were saying something like, “Paul evidently teaches us by these words, I would even if we are ruled by an unbelieving government, we should obey them - that would be an implication. But this is really an interpretation of the words for that specific meaning back then.

The problem with what Paul says here is that it is not very relevant today. Ok. Significance

What does this passage in Acts teach about the early church? Subject matter.

Everyone knows what Paul meant by these words.  The problem is what he means by this today. Everyone knows what Paul means by these words.  Understanding. Good.

The problem is what he means by this today.
Implication 
Another way of saying what James means here is that… Interpretation.

What the Biblical author of this passage tells us is that Jesus is also able to forgive me of my sins if I put my faith in Him.

No. That’s subject matter. Implication right.

Notice that we are not talking about what the Biblical author meant for his reader back then but we are getting in to how this relates to us which is an implication.

I know that Paul saw the Lord on the road to Damascus, but how exactly did he see him?

Yeah. Talking about the event.  

We are not talking about what Luke is trying to teach by it, we are talking about the event itself.  Using the present context this word can mean any of the following.

Student: Norms of language.

Dr. Stein: Norms of language.

Should the following story be interpreted as a myth or as a historical narrative? Genre.

Is the following story really a myth or did it really happen? That’s different.  Yeah. Could be that. Significance I also have here because it is a value judgment as to its truthfulness.

It wouldn’t be one that I would put on an exam however so relax.

What I am seeking to discover is what the author meant by his use of these words. Understanding, anyone have meaning.  I would accept meaning here too, but understanding is the better one.

How are you doing? Doing pretty well? No. Still having troubles huh?

I have a feeling, for a lot of you it seems to be going well. Alright. Thank you for bearing with my kind of raspy voice.

We finished our discussion of prophecy last week and I was not trying to give to you an answer for every prophetic passage in the Bible or even explain to you all the ones that are difficult. What I was trying to do was give you a feel of how to go about interpreting prophecy. Trying to understand the genre and what the prophet expected his audience to bring with them in the interpretation. 

So what I was trying to convey in our discussion of prophecy was the idea that prophecy has certain expectations on the part of the biblical author and that was that prophecies of judgment, if we assumed that you would know if a person repented that prophecy would not take place. It makes perfectly good sense, so we [Hard to hear] not aware of that until we looked at examples of that where it is specifically stated.

But it makes sense to tell people about judgment coming because it gives people an opportunity to flee the judgment coming or to repent. And the other thing we looked at was the language of prophecy.  Notice it is very poetic. Very much using the kind of language that looks like end of the world terminology, but this end of the world terminology occurs time and time again on non- end of the world prophecies.

So rather than also saying well it must also refers to the end of the world, what you would essentially say is that this language should be understood as language in which the prophet reveals God as acting in some way.

Now there is a sense in which any prophecy will have implications that can refer to if you talk about prophecy of a good king, well any good king has characteristics, which the goodest king of all would be like Jesus. Is it a prophecy of Jesus Himself. No. That is not a prophecy of Jesus Himself. It is a prophecy of about what it means to be a king and if you have the greatest king of all coming who is perfectly righteous, he will exemplify those good qualities.

If you have prophecies of judgment, it shows that God hates sin and He is going to judge sin. Of course, it implies that at the end of history there is going to be a great judgment in which God judges sin.  But that doesn’t mean that the specific prophecy refers to the end of the world on that judgment of sin, so there may be implications that carry this out.

I asked you to look at Mark chapter 13 because there is a lot of that same terminology used there and I had resisted for a long time, attributing the same understanding of Old Testament prophecies that used this language to the New Testament.

But let me just make some comments real briefly about Mark 13 as I understand it, and then I will allow some time for questions, and then we will go on to the next literary form. The 13th chapter of Mark begins with the disciples telling Jesus, “Look. What wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings.”

The temple and its complex would have matched almost any of the 7 wonders of the world.  If the 7 wonders of the world had been written at the time of Jesus rather than centuries earlier, the temple could very well have been one of them. It was a magnificent temple.  It was the largest temple complex in the world.  Not the largest temple but largest complex in the world. The stones involved were magnificent and it must have been truly a wonderful site but Jesus said, “You see these, there will not be left here one stone upon the other that will not be thrown down.” Talking about the judgment of Jerusalem.

Then as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked in private, “Well. Tell us when will this – when these stones will be thrown down – when will this be? And what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?”

Probably an example of what we call synonymous parallelism where the same thought is being repeated. Tell us when this will be and what is the sign associated with this. And Jesus began to say, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name saying that ‘I am he! and they will lead many astray.”

7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place first, but the end is still to come.

Ironic that people would say rumors of war indicates the Lord's return is near at hand. Its just the opposite here, right? Thats part of ... Its going to continue. Don't get excited by it. These things will take place. The end is not yet.

8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

These things will go on. Don't get excited about those things.

9 ‘Take heed to yourselves, they will deliver you up to councils; you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them. 10And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you that speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But he who endures to the end will be saved.

There is nothing unusual about this that says, “Uh. End of history kinds of stuff.” This is what you face in being my disciples.  Now in verse 14 talks about something that looks like it’s the fall of Jerusalem,

14 ‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be

- then Mark says, hey you who are reading this understand, now the desolating sacrilege is referred to in the book of Daniel and it seems to have taken place in the period of the Maccabees, when on December 7, 167 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian king profaned the temple and desecrated it. There is some debate as to whether it involved sacrificing to a pig on the Jewish altar, which would not be the most devout thing for a jew, needless to say or whether he had build and put a cult stone, an idol on the altar or a combination of both of these, but he desecrated the temple. Jesus seems to be saying, when you see something like this happening again, beware.

- let him who is on the housetop not go down nor enter into his house to take anything away; 16 let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. 17 Alas for those who are with child and those who give suck in those days! 18 Pray that it may not be in winter.

Now this does not look like end times. When Jesus comes, it doesn’t say flee into the mountains. Don’t go down and take your cloak or something like that, not that that’s going to matter when Jesus comes.  Furthermore its exaggerated language anyhow, because if it refers to the Roman armies or the legions as they were called, coming to Jerusalem in A.D. 67-70, the Romans didn’t practice blitzkrieg. That was not known until the Nazi armies attacked Poland in 39 and so forth and so on.  Blitzkrieg was not the Roman method.

The Roman method was steam roller. They would just grind up everybody in the way. And they would grind up the neighboring villages and they would grind up any of the castle towns and fortress towns and they would eventually come to Jerusalem.  Now there is lots of time to run, when you see the legions starting to come down from Syria, so. Pray that it may not happen in winter.  When the Lord comes to judge the world and you are an unbeliever is it better in summertime? No. It looks like you are talking about the desolating sacrilege where Jerusalem will be destroyed.

But then He uses this language.  “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be.”

Now if you take that as a scientific statement then you probably are going to think, it has to be the end times. But if you take this as part of the use of commissive language to describe the horror of what is going to go on, then it fits very well with what happened in A.D. 70.  If you ever want to read about that, Josephus has, who is a Jewish historian, wrote about it in a book called, The Jewish War. It tells about the terrible times. The people fled into the city where Jesus said “Don’t go in the city, but get out of there,” and when the city was surrounded, there were three groups in the city, of Jews and there were warring against each other, surrounded by the Romans who were going to kill them all. They would raid each other’s food and water supplies and kill each other. And the Romans are outside about to destroy everyone. 

Jews that tried to escape this were caught and crucified.  And Josephus using exaggerated language said there was no longer a tree within twenty miles of the city. They had all be cut down for the crosses and there was no longer room on the hills to put crosses.  As many as 500 jews were being crucified each day.  Doesn’t that fit that language of the horror that these… nothing quite like this before. Well. Was there something like this before? This is not a scientific statement. It is a very effective commissive statement.

There is a story for instance that they… these food shortages in Jerusalem and the people are looking for food and if anybody has any food they will kill him and grab their food to eat it. And they – Josephus said – they smelled food in the home and they broke into the home and they all ran out when they did that because they saw a mother cooking her own child, because the famine was so great.

I mean this is the horror of A.D. 70. It can’t be overstated. 

“20And if the Lord had not cut shortened those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21And then if anyone says to you, “Look! Here is the Christ!” or “Look! There is he!”—do not believe.”

Don’t get screwed up with Messianic pretenders coming at this time.

22False christ’s and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 23But take heed; I have told you all things.”

Now verses 24-27 are the difficult verses. But in those days – in those days of A.D. 70? Or is this a specific designation for the final days?

24 " In those days – technical term for the end -, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And you will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send his angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

To me that looks like the Second Coming. However the language – we have talked about the language – we have talked about that language haven’t we? In all the Old Testament instances whether it was the fall of Babylon, the destruction of Pharaoh Neco’s army, the fall of Jerusalem. That language was impressionistic language.  Should we imply that this is also impressionistic language or has it switched now to scientifically technical language? Do you see the problem? I have always resisted this but I thought “Well how can you do it with the Old Testament if you are not willing to do it here as well.”

Then in 28, He seems to refer back to the fall of Jerusalem. 

28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, …”

These things referring to verses 14 through 23, not 24 to 27.

“…you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Here I think this refers to the fall of Jerusalem. And then in 32 to 37, it goes back to the Second Coming, so I have some real questions as of how to interpret those. If 24 to 27 would have occurred after verse 31, it would have made my interpretation very easy and nice. I don’t know why Mark simply – because he is inspired by the Lord – writes this way instead of making it easy for me. But maybe I have to start being more open to what Mark is saying here.

I have some difficulties.  But here is my question. The language used in the New Testament to describe the Lord’s Return. How scientifically exact is this? When the trumpet blows at the Second Coming, what is Paul trying to say in 1st Thessalonians? Is there one super trumpet that is really big, that is going to blow and anybody in the world will hear it? Will it be on radio and everybody will be listening to it?

Or is this a way of saying Jesus is coming. The trumpet call means the time has come. Now He returns.  Whether there is a trumpet or not, I don’t know. When you announce something, you announce it with a trumpet. Now the Son of Man comes as been announced in the past and He reveals Himself.

Are the stars falling from Heaven, the powers in the Heaven are being shaken so forth? Are these literal or are these again, the kind of language that says, Jesus is coming and God is going to act and everybody will know in that day, God is bringing history to its end when Jesus returns. Some of these questions you kind of have to wrestle with, but I hope that you have seen enough in the text of the Old Testament to see how some of this language is used in figurative ways – what they intend to teach, we take literally. God is acting. He is bringing His promises to conclusion and so forth.

Whether the language is literally correct, we have seen in the Old Testament, that [Hard to hear] meant that many times it is impressionistic, but what it says literally came true. These nations were judged and God brought judgment as He said.

Is this language going to be that way? I just know that when Jesus comes you will know. I’ll know. The world will know. But to get all the details, trumpets blowing, God announcing with a trumpet sound or stars falling, I don’t know if that language is part of a prophetic language of God revealing Himself in the coming of Christ or not. 

Student: Do you think Mark’s original audience would have clearly understood this passage?

Dr. Stein: I think they were more familiar with prophecy than we were, we are. And you have to remember that we are an unusual generation. Since the 1800s, we have become a kind of scientific generation and no generation before ever thought that way – with that kind of precision.

In fact, if the writers of the New Testament, Old Testament wrote with our scientific precision, no one would have understood it till the 1800s probably.

So I think we have to go back to their mindset and they see things much more figuratively and that’s one of the things I wanted you to get with regards to prophecy.  They see things in figurative terminology. What is said is true, and the literal meaning of the author is not the literal meaning of the words but what he wants to teach by those words. And that’s true, I believe.