Doctrine of Language; Rev. 1:2-3
Language is something we often take for granted. We don't think too much about the nature or structure of language unless we happen to be studying in a grammar course, we simply learn to speak as a child as we grow up and we communicate with people. For most people the whole concept of communication is not something that they spend a whole lot of time thinking about. Yet, everything we talk about, everything we do in life whenever we are associated with anyone else is built upon a foundation of communication and language. Last time we talked about how the first three verses in Revelation chapter one carry within them an embedded doctrine of language.
Psalm 33:9, "For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast." It is God's Word that guarantees that everything is the way that it is. As we look at Genesis chapter one there are a couple of observations we ought to make. When God spoke and said, "Let there be light, and there was light," what did He do then? He called the light day and the darkness He called night. God begins to provide nomenclature and language to the things that He created. When God creates Adam He has initialized Adam's vocabulary, and then He gives Adam the responsibility to go out and categorize and name the animals. This involves Adam's use and development of analytical skills as he evaluates all the animals and he sees which animals belong to which kind, and so what is embedded in language now is also the concept of categorization. We have day and we have night, and furthermore as God creates He names certain things: the waters He calls seas, v. 10, and He calls man Adam. So as God initiates He gives names and this nomenclature involves categories, and man's thinking, his mental activity, is based on this categorization that God gives. We are all able to communicate to each other because when we speak, and we talk about a car, for example, there are all kinds of different cars but they are all cars. It is a universal concept, we are able to communicate to each other because of categories. This is how we learn things; this is how we store information in our souls, and this is how that information is retrieved and applied. We get into a situation and we realize we are anxious and afraid, so what promise do we pull out? We reach over into a category and we pull out a promise related to fear and anxiety and we claim that promise. So all of this structure is built into creation by God. Creation isn't the way it is by chance. God has created everything the way it is to function certain ways and everything is interrelated and correlates together. Words and language and communication are inherent to all of creation.
Hebrews 11:3, "By faith [trust] we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which are visible." Here the word "word" isn't LOGOS [logoj], it is the Greek word HREMA [r(hma] which has to do with the spoken word, that God spoke and it was so.
John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word [LOGOS/logoj] , and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Here we see the word LOGOS used as a title for Jesus Christ. Cf. John 1:14. So the word here has to do with revelation, with disclosure. It refers not just to the communication concept but study, reason, rationality, indicating that everything under girding everything in the universe is a rational, knowable structure. We don't live in an irrational, incomprehensible world. Man may not be able to understand everything that is there, but God does. He is an omniscient God, He created everything in the universe, so everything is comprehensible to Him and therefore is under His sovereign control, even though we may not understand why things are happening the way they are or what is going on in our own life.
In John 1:1 we come face to face with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ as a communicator. He is the one who is the revealer of the Trinity. God the Father is the planner; Jesus Christ is the one who reveals Him. So when we see God appear to Adam and Eve in the garden it is God the Son, because "no man has seen the Father at any time." When we see God appear to Abraham in Genesis 15 it is not God the Father, it is God the Son. When we see God appear to Moses on Mount Sinai it is not God the Father, it is God the Son.
We want to conclude our study of language by going over basic concepts of hermeneutics. The English word "hermeneutics" derives from the Greek word HERMENEUO [e(rmhneuw]. This is both a science and an art. The word in the Greek means decipher, interpret, or to understand. This is the idea that we can apply certain principles to any utterance, whether it is a written statement like poetry, a verbal statement, whatever it is certain principles can be applied in order to understand what is being said. The basic concept of hermeneutics is that you interpret Scripture the same way you interpret every other piece of literature. The Bible isn't just some sort of mystical other-worldly book that just dropped down out of heaven and so we have to utilize some mystical non-rational meanings and understandings where there is no control. The Bible can't mean anything to anybody anymore than the instructions to fill out a tax form to whatever you want them to mean. The Bible is literature written to man and follows the same principles of literature as anything else. So the basic definition of hermeneutics is called a literal-grammatical hermeneutic. We believe in the plain interpretation of Scripture. Definition from a pastor by the name of David L. Cooper: "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, make no other sense. Therefore take every word at its ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicates clearly other wise."
Take the first part of that definition: "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, make no other sense." In other words, if you look at the Scripture and you read it, and in terms of every day use of language and meaning you think that this means X, then that's what it means. You don't need any kind of special insight from God or a special pair of glasses like Joseph Smith. Don't try to read something into it or extrapolate from it into some higher sense. Origen developed the allegorical method of interpretation in the 3rd century AD and he said there were three levels of interpretation, a literal meaning, a figurative meaning, and a spiritual meaning. The spiritual meaning didn't have anything to do with the literal meaning. In other words, as soon as you got into the figurative meaning and the spiritual meaning you were like a hot-air balloon that had been cut loose from its anchor rope, it just starts drifting with the wind and can go anywhere. So allegorical interpretation entered into the history of the church. One of the things they did was to go to certain passages, like Revelation 20 about the thousand-year rule of Christ and they said that a thousand years doesn't mean a thousand literal years, it just refers to a perfect period of time. The Millennial kingdom was no longer a literal thousand-year reign of Christ where he came to the earth and reigned in Jerusalem. It became just allegorized and a spiritual form of the kingdom of heaven and Jesus is now ruling from David's throne (spiritualized) from heaven. And we are in the kingdom now! It is a spiritual kingdom, it is not a literal kingdom. And that is what happened, and so for a period of 1300 years—from roughly 250 AD to the mid-1500s—Amillennialism (no Millennium) was the dominant view. It wasn't until the Reformation under Martin Luther that there is a return to a literal, grammatical-historical interpretation.
Literal means that we take every word literally, but that doesn't mean that we deny figures of speech; "unless the facts of the immediate context" – that is why we have to do context study, we don't just look at the word alone. We ask what kind of context it is used in. Is it in poetry? Even in English if a word appears in poetry it has a different broader sense than if it just appears in legal literature. For example, if we see the word "marriage" in a marriage contract we know what it means. It is a technical, legal term. But if we are just talking in every-day language and we say, Well they are not really married to that idea, it is being used in a figurative sense. But that figurative meaning still has a literal meaning; studied in the light of related passages" – this is the old principle of comparing Scripture with Scripture.
"unless the facts of the immediate context studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicates clearly other wise." One of these would be that you look at how prophecy is fulfilled. If you are going to interpret prophecy that isn't fulfilled and the question is, How literally will this be fulfilled? One of the things to be done is to go back to Scripture and see how prophecy has been fulfilled, and there are numerous prophecies that were given in the Old Testament that were literally fulfilled. We think about the prophecies related to the first coming of our Lord, that He would be born in Bethlehem, and when He died He was crucified, he was pierced for our transgression, wounded for our iniquities (Isaiah 53). The Old Testament clearly describes death by crucifixion when death by crucifixion was not being utilized at that time. It hadn't even been invented yet when David first talks about it in Psalm 22. Yet it is clear that those prophecies were fulfilled in a literal manner.
An example of literal interpretation: Isaiah 2:2, where we have the words "mountains" and "hills." "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." How are we going to understand "the Lord's house"? Is it the church? No. We have to look at the historical context. This is the temple, and it is on the top of a mountain. And this is in the future, that the temple will be on the temple mount. The mountain there is a specific literal mountain in Israel. "In the top of the mountains" – this is going to be the most significant of all mountains on the earth; "and shall be exalted above the hills" – because of the presence of the Lord there this is going to be the most significant of all hills or mountains. So we take the words "hills" and "mountains" here in a literal sense.
We have a slightly difference context in Isaiah 55:12. This is talking about the Millennial kingdom. "For you [the nation Israel] shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing [figurative-literal sense], and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." There is an idiom being used here. The mountains and the hills aren't going to literally sing, but what he is talking about is that the curse is thrown off of nature. There is a curse on nature right now and this curse is going to be reversed in the Millennial kingdom, so it is personifying the mountains and the hills as rejoicing because the curse has been turned back. Personification is when you attribute human personal attributes to an impersonal object. It is a figure of speech; it is not literal.
Isaiah 65:25, talking about the Millennial kingdom, says, "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD." Taken literally this tells us that there is going to be peace and harmony in the Millennial kingdom with the curse on the animals that happened as a result of the fall is going to be rolled back. We are not going to have violence and the struggle that we have today. But in covenant theology those who hold to a more allegorical interpretation and who do not believe in a future literal Millennium, they interpret this as saying the wolf is Saul, and the lamb is what he became after he was saved. Where do you get Saul in this whole passage? And just as lions are converted to straw eaters, so people must be converted to be in the kingdom. Where do they get that? They don't know, there is no control there. But the implication for them is that if you take it literally you end up with a future literal Millennium and their theological system won't accept that. What you always have to watch is letting your theological system interpret Scripture. You have to let Scripture interpret itself, and from there you build your theology.
Isaiah 65:11, "But you are they who forsake the LORD, that forget my holy mountain, that set a table for fortune, and who fill cups with mixed wine for Destiny." These are those who forget the temple—"forget my holy mountain." They are worshipping the god fortune, an impersonal universe again. Their destiny is their god rather than the God of Scripture. But in an allegorical interpretation the mountain is not a literal mountain of Zion in Jerusalem which is the center of true worship at that time but it is a reference to the church. But where do you get the church in Isaiah? It is not there. It is not in the passage, not in the context, and you don't even get it by comparing Scripture with Scripture. These are just a few examples to see the problem.
When we come to our passage in Revelation there are three broad interpretive schemes. The first is Preterist, which simply means "past." It was a dead view 30 years ago but it has been resurrected. It is the idea that all this is just symbols, code words for the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, that Jesus came in the clouds of judgment in 70 AD, and so we are now living in the Millennium. The historicist position looks at it as present, it is trying to identify the events in Revelation with current events. It's called newspaper exegesis. There are a certain number of dispensationalists who stick one foot over in the historicist camp and try to go around and identify everything that is happening today with fulfillment of prophecy. Then the third view is our view, it is called futurism. We believe that Revelation chapters four and following are all in the future; they haven't been fulfilled yet.
Some basic principles
1) Scripture must be interpreted literally.
2) Scripture has only one meaning.
3) Scripture must be interpreted by comparing Scripture with Scripture. The Bible is a unified, integrated whole. You can't take one part out without causing problems with everything else.
4) Scripture must be interpreted in the light of its historical context—isagogics.
5) You must interpret Scripture before you can apply Scripture. If you don't know what it means you can't figure out what it means to you.