Prophecy, not Prediction

May 9th, 2010

Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 2, Chapter 8:

Of two passages in his own Old Testament Scriptures the Evangelist sees a fulfilment in these events. The flight into Egypt is to him the fulfilment of this expression by Hosea, ‘Out of Egypt have I called My Son’ (Hos. 11:1). In the murder of ‘the Innocents,’ he sees the fulfilment of Rachel’s lament (Jer. 31:15, who died and was buried in Ramah) and there was bitter wailing at the prospect of parting for hopeless captivity, and yet bitterer lament, as they who might have encumbered the onward march were pitilessly slaughtered. Those who have attentively followed the course of Jewish thinking, and marked how the ancient Synagogue, and that rightly, read the Old Testament in its unity, as ever pointing to the Messiah as the fulfillment of Israel’s history, will not wonder at, but fully accord with, St. Matthew’s retrospective view. The words of Hosea were in the highest sense ‘fulfilled’ in the flight to, and return of, the Saviour from Egypt.[53] To an inspired writer, nay, to a true Jewish reader of the Old Testament, the question in regard to any prophecy could not be: What did the prophet—but, What did the prophecy—mean? And this could only be unfolded in the course of Israel’s history. Similarly, those who ever saw in the past the prototype of the future, and recognised in events, not only the principle, but the very features of that which was to come, could not fail to perceive, in the bitter wail of the mothers of Bethlehem over their slaughtered children, the full realisation of the prophetic description of the scene enacted in Jeremiah’s days. Had not the prophet himself heard, in the lament of the captives to Babylon, the echoes of Rachel’s voice in the past? In neither one nor the other case had the utterances of the prophets (Hosea and Jeremiah) been predictions: they were prophetic. In neither one not the other case was the ‘fulfilment’ literal: it was Scriptural, and that in the truest Old Testament sense.

[53]In point of fact the ancient Synagogue did actually apply to the Messiah Ex. 4:22, on which the words of Hosea are based. See the Midrash on Ps. 2:7. The quotation is given in full in our remarks on Ps. 2:7 in Appendix 9.

Valuing Christ Alone

November 27th, 2009

John Calvin, Harmony of the Gospels, V.2 on Matthew 17:8

They saw no man but Jesus only. When it is said that in the end they saw Christ alone, this means that the Law and the Prophets had a temporary glory, that Christ alone might remain fully in view. If we would properly avail ourselves of the aid of Moses, we must not stop with him, but must endeavor to be conducted by his hand to Christ, of whom both he and all the rest are ministers. This passage may also be applied to condemn the superstitions of those who confound Christ not only with prophets and apostles, but with saints of the lowest rank, in such a manner as to make him nothing more than one of their number. But when the saints of God are eminent in graces, it is for a totally different purpose than that they should defraud Christ of a part of his honor, and appropriate it to themselves. In the disciples themselves we may see the origin of the mistake; for so long as they were terrified by the majesty of God, their minds wandered in search of men, but when Christ gently raised them up, they saw him alone. If we are made to experience that consolation by which Christ relieves us of our fears, all those foolish affections, which distract us on every hand, will vanish away.

It’s obvious that being seized by prejudice against Calvin is simply a way to deprive yourself of great blessing.

Scripture sometimes describes God in terms appropriate to humans physically, which is anthropomorphism (Deuteronomy 5:15) or mentally, which is anthropopathism (Judges 10:16). Such passages are usually interpreted figuratively, as describing God in terms that belong to humanity: thus God’s power can be described as His outstretched arm, and renewed activity on behalf of His people can be described as Him remembering (Genesis 8:1). (I should also point out for the sake of clarity that this use of anthropomorphism takes it as a particular kind of metaphor: the word is sometimes used in different ways as well.)

Why not just take them literally? Is it just that it offends our sensibilities to think of God forgetting? The rationale for seeing this figure in the Bible is that Scripture itself forces us to adopt this procedure. Consider the following verses:

Psalm 78:65

Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.

Psalm 121:4

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

Here we have awaking from sleep and not sleeping both predicated of God. They can’t both be true, at the same time, and in the same way: that would be contradictory. So we interpret God waking up as being a description of a change in His actions, similar to the change in actions of a man who wakes up, while understanding that God never sleeps.

Why not the other way around? Because only one way makes sense: if we take the descriptions of God as sleeping, forgetting, etc., as figurative, we can understand the statements which say that He does none of them; but if we turn it around, we can make sense of neither. Negating a figure doesn’t actually convey any information at all: however, when a positive comparison is made between some aspect of man and God it makes sense to qualify that comparison by denying the imperfection in the analogy. This causes us to raise our mind above unworthy conceptions of God, while retaining the positive data from the figure. And so we can see that God’s actions changed, while not thinking that He actually fell asleep.

This is also what we must do in the times when repentance is attributed to God, since it is also denied that God repents (Genesis 6:5-7; Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:10,11,28,29,35). We can see that His treatment of men changes, while there is no change in His will.

The logical next step is to extend the principle. So when we see that things of a certain kind are attributed to God only in a figurative way (because those things are also said not to belong to God, which can’t be figurative), the result is that we understand that all the things in that category are attributed to God only figuratively. Scripture itself has led us to conclude that God isn’t grieved as we understand grief, but that His procedure changes in much the same way as ours does when we are grieved.

Calvin’s and Gill’s comments on Hosea 6:2 set before us two approaches to the Old Testament. I should note that I am not making the case that these approaches are characteristic to the two commentators, merely that in this instance they happen to exemplify these two methods rather well. Obviously the ability, piety, or orthodoxy of either commentator is not at all in question.
I will summarize their remarks, make some comments, and place their words in at the end.

Hosea 6:2 After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in
his sight.

John Gill mentions various interpretations, but what he puts forward as most agreeable to the context and scope of the passage, or as the sense of the words (though admitting that it is conjectural) is that this is a reference to “the time of their [the Jews’] conversion and restoration, reckoning from the last destruction of them by the Romans; for not till then were Israel and Judah wholly in a state of death” and hence that there is a prediction of how the Jews will live “comfortably, in a civil sense, in their
own land, and in the possession of all their privileges and liberties; and in a spiritual sense, by faith on Jesus Christ, whom they shall now embrace, and in the enjoyment of the Gospel and Gospel ordinances; and the prophet represents the penitents and faithful among them as believing and hoping for these things.” He then goes on to say that these words can be applied to those who have become aware of their sins, “who, as they are in their natural state dead in sin, and dead in law, so they see themselves to be such when awakened; and yet entertain a secret hope that sooner or later they shall be revived and refreshed, and raised up to a more comfortable state, and live in the presence of God, and the enjoyment of his favour.”

It will be seen from these quotations that Gill’s approach is to take the passage as a prediction of God’s future blessing upon the physical seed of Abraham: this is the meaning he gives the words, although he admits that there is application to the case of any sinner who is coming under conviction. It is obvious that Gill has taken care over this interpretation, and has studied it out. In his comments on this verse he mentions six cross references and refers to four other interpreters by name (three of them Jewish) as
well as mentioning the Talmud and the general interpretation of the church fathers. His words demonstrate a concern for contextually sensitive exegesis, and a real concern to be fair to the text, to the extent of acknowledging what is mere conjecture in his own remarks.

Now Calvin similarly demonstrates an overmastering concern for accuracy in his exposition. He maintains that the Hebrew writers pervert the meaning of this verse. He also rejects an interpretation which he can label as “usual” and which Gill claims most of the church fathers held, namely, that this is a reference to the resurrection of Christ, in the following words:

Yet this sense seems to me rather too refined. We must always mind this, that we fly not in the air. Subtle speculations please at first sight, but afterwards vanish. Let every one, then, who desires to make proficiency in the Scriptures always keep to this rule — to gather from the Prophets and apostles only what is solid.

He then proceeds to give the meaning of the verse as being that although the remedy for their malaise may tarry (in context, the exile which they will suffer is long), it will surely come, with these words “they confirmed themselves in the hope of salvation, though it did not immediately appear”. The effect of this is that “a consolation is here opposed to the temptations, which take from us the hope of salvation, when God suspends his favor longer than our flesh desires.” As in the case of Lazarus Christ delayed in order to show the power of God, so God sometimes delays our deliverance —but that delay does not mean that deliverance will not come. And Calvin goes on to show how this text also does bear reference to Christ, in that Christ is a “remarkable and memorable” instance of what Hosea teaches, or again that Christ is an “illustrious proof” of this prophecy. He then applies it to all believers, “As often then as delay begets weariness in us, and when God seems to have thrown aside every care of us, let us flee to Christ; for, as it has been said, His resurrection is a mirror of our life; for we see in that how God is wont to deal with his own people: the Father did not restore life to Christ as soon as he was taken down from the cross; he was deposited in the sepulchre, and he lay there to the third day. When God then intends that we should languish for a time, let us know that we are thus represented in Christ our head, and hence let us gather materials of confidence.”

There are two differences between Calvin and Gill that I would particularly highlight. One is that Calvin understands this to have immediate reference to the Assyrian Captivity, whereas Gill refers it to later times. Here I think it is fairly simple to assert that Calvin is right (see 8:5-9:3). But the greater difference between them is that Calvin sees in this text a pattern of instruction for all God’s people in all times, culminating in Christ, whose resurrection is the mirror of our life, whereas Gill limits it almost exclusively to the Jews in a future time, and even his application of it extends only to “sensible sinners” before they come to Christ. As such, I find that Calvin’s comments are food for my mind and heart, that they are heartening and strengthening, whereas Gill’s remarks have something frigid and meager about them. Calvin shows the relevance, the immediacy, of this text to us, now: and his comments mean as much to my generation as to any generation in church history; Gill, however, leaves me to wonder what value this text had for Hosea himself, for those who heard him, or for all the generations following until the times spoken of (according to him) in this text should arrive.

Naturally, this makes me greatly prefer Calvin’s approach. But it might be objected that after all this is just sentiment, that I want to feel that this lyrical passage in the Old Testament has something to do with me, that in my desire to appropriate the word of God to myself I am willing to distort it. Well, perhaps. But if so I seem to find myself in good company. It was Paul who taught me to assert that all of the Old Testament is useful to me (and to every Christian), when he said that:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)
Likewise it was Paul who taught me to see myself (and every Christian) as in view in the composition of the Old Testament, by his statement:
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4; cp. 1 Corinthians 9:9,10).
I found further confirmation of this point from Peter who went so far as to affirm that the OT prophets ministered not so much for themselves as for me (and for every Christian):
Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. (1 Peter 1:12).
But perhaps there is no place where this idea is taken further than when Paul asserted that it wasn’t just the recording of certain events in the Old Testament that was for my benefit, but even the occurrence of those events was for me (and for every Christian):
Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. (1 Corinthians 10:6)

So in this instance, I conclude that Calvin’s approach is better than Gill’s. It is better because it is more Christocentric, more practical, more theological, more contextual, more encouraging, more relevant; in short it is better because it is more after the apostolic method of interpretation, and so we can say it all in one word: it is better because it is more Biblical.

And so I submit that if an interpretation is distant, paltry, not centered in Christ, and tending rather to give me information I cannot use than to establish my heart in grace, then it fails the test the New Testament gives us whereby to judge the validity of interpretations of the Old Testament. A text that speaks to the future must speak also to the present (and since we are dealing with ancient material must also have spoken to our past).


If anyone would like to compare them further, here are Gill’s complete comments on Hosea 6:2, and Calvin (likewise complete) is below him.

John Gill:
After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, etc.]
The Jews, in their present state, are as dead men, both in a civil and spiritual sense, and their conversion and restoration will be as life from the dead; they are like persons buried, and, when they are restored, they will be raised out of their graves, both of sin and misery; (see Romans 11:15, Ezekiel 37:11-14); the time of which is here fixed, after two days, and on the third; which Jarchi interprets of the two temples that have been destroyed, and of the third temple to be built, which the Jews expect, but in vain, and when they hope for good times: Kimchi explains it of their three captivities, in Egypt, Babylon, and the present one, and so Ben Melech, from which they hope to be raised, and live comfortably; which sense is much better than the former: and with it may be compared Vitringa’s notion of the text, that the first day was between Israel’s coming out of Egypt and the Babylonish captivity; the second day between that and the times of Antiochus, which was the third night; then the third day followed, which is the times of the Messiah: but the Targum comes nearer the truth, which paraphrases the words thus,
“he will quicken us in the days of consolation which are to come, and in the day of the resurrection of the dead he will raise us up;”
where by days of consolation are meant the days of the Messiah, with which the Jews generally connect the resurrection of the dead; and if we understand them of the last days of the Messiah, it is not much amiss; for the words respect the quickening and raising up of the Jews in the latter day, the times of Christ’s spiritual coming and reign: and these two and three days may be expressive of a long and short time, as interpreters differently explain them; of a long time, as the third day is a long time for a man to lie dead, when there can be little or no hope of his reviving, (Luke 24:21); or of a short time, for which two or three days is a common phrase; and both true in this case: it is a long time Israel and Judah have been in captivity, and there may seem little hope of their restoration; but it will be a short time with the Lord, with whom a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years: and this I take to be the sense of the words, that after the second Millennium, or the Lord’s two days, and at the beginning of the third, will be the time of their conversion and restoration, reckoning from the last destruction of them by the Romans; for not till then were Israel and Judah wholly in a state of death: many of Israel were mixed among those of Judah before the Babylonish captivity, and many returned with them from it; but, when destroyed by the Romans, there was an end of their civil and church state; which will both be revived on a better foundation at this period of time: but if this conjecture is not agreeable (for I only propose it as such), the sense may be taken thus, that in a short time after the repentance of Israel, and their conversion to the Lord, they will be brought into a very comfortable and happy state and condition, both with respect to things temporal and spiritual;
and we shall live in his sight; comfortably, in a civil sense, in their own land, and in the possession of all their privileges and liberties; and in a spiritual sense, by faith on Jesus Christ, whom they shall now embrace, and in the enjoyment of the Gospel and Gospel ordinances; and the prophet represents the penitents and faithful among them as believing and hoping for these things. This may be applied to the case of sensible sinners, who, as they are in their natural state dead in sin, and dead in law, so they see themselves to be such when awakened; and yet entertain a secret hope that sooner or later they shall be revived and refreshed, and raised up to a more comfortable state, and live in the presence of God, and the enjoyment of his favour. The ancient fathers generally understood these words of Christ, who was buried on the sixth day, lay in the grave the whole seventh day, and after these two days, on the third, rose again from the dead; and to this passage the apostle is thought to have respect, (1 Corinthians 15:3); and also of the resurrection of his people in and with him, and by virtue of his: and true it is that Christ rose from the dead on the third day, and all his redeemed ones were quickened and raised up together with him as their head and representative, (Ephesians 2:5,6); and his in virtue of his being quickened that they are regenerated and quickened, and made alive, in a spiritual sense; he is the author of their spiritual life, and their life itself; (see 1 Peter 1:3); and not only in virtue of his resurrection is their spiritual resurrection from the death of sin to a life of grace, but even their corporeal resurrection at the last day; and as, in consequence of their spiritual resurrection, they live in the sight of God a life of grace and holiness by faith in Christ, and in a comfortable view and enjoyment of the divine favour; so they shall live eternally in the presence of God, where are fulness of joy, and pleasures for evermore: but the first sense is best, and most agreeable to the context and scope of it.

John Calvin:
This place the Hebrew writers pervert, for they think that they are yet to be redeemed by the coming of the Messiah; and they imagine that this will be the third day: for God once drew them out of Egypt, this was their first life; then, secondly, he restored them to life when he brought them back from the Babylonish captivity; and when God shall, by the hand of the Messiah, gather them from their dispersion, this, they say, will be the third resurrection. But these are frivolous notions. Not withstanding, this place is usually referred to Christ, as declaring, that God would, after two days, and on the third, raise up his Church; for Christ, we know, did not rise privately for himself, but for his members, inasmuch as he is the firstfruits of them who shall rise. This sense does not seem then unsuitable, that is, that the Prophet here encourages the faithful to entertain hope of salvation, because God would raise up his only-begotten Son, whose resurrection would be the common life of the whole Church.
Yet this sense seems to me rather too refined. We must always mind this, that we fly not in the air. Subtle speculations please at first sight, but afterwards vanish. Let every one, then, who desires to make proficiency in the Scriptures always keep to this rule — to gather from the Prophets and apostles only what is solid.
Let us now see what the Prophet meant. He here adds, I doubt not, a second source of consolation, that is, that if God should not immediately revive his people, there would be no reason for delay to cause weariness, as it is wont to do; for we see that when God suffers us to languish long, our spirits fail; and those who at first seem cheerful and courageous enough, in process of time become faint. As, then, patience is a rare virtue, Hosea here exhorts us patiently to bear delay, when the Lord does not immediately revive us. Thus then did the Israelites say, After two days will God revive us; on the third day he will raise us up to life.
What did they understand by two days? Even their long affliction; as though they said, “Though the Lord may not deliver us from our miseries the first day, but defer longer our redemption, our hope ought not yet to fail; for God can raise up dead bodies from their graves no less than restore life in a moment.” When Daniel meant to show that the affliction of the people would be long, he says, ‘After a time, times, and half time,’ (Daniel 7:25.)
That mode of speaking is different, but then as to sense it is the same. He says, ‘after a time,’ that is, after a year; that would be tolerable: but it follows, ‘and times,’ that is, many years: God afterwards shortens that period, and brings redemption at a time when least expected. Hosea mentions here two years, because God would not afflict his people for one day, but, as we have before seen, subdue them by degrees; for the perverseness of the people had so prevailed, that they could not be soon healed. As when diseases have been striking roots for a long time, they cannot be immediately cured, but there is need of slow and various remedies; and were a physician to attempt immediately to remove a disease which had taken full possession of a man, he certainly would not cure him, but take away his life: so also, when the Israelites, through their long obstinacy, had become nearly incurable, it was necessary to lead them to repentance by slow punishments. They therefore said, After two days God will revive us; and thus they confirmed themselves in the hope of salvation, though it did not immediately appear: though they long remained in darkness, and the exile was long which they had to endure, they yet did not cease to hope: “Well, let the two days pass, and the Lord will revive us.”
We see that a consolation is here opposed to the temptations, which take from us the hope of salvation, when God suspends his favor longer than our flesh desires. Martha said to Christ, ‘He is now putrid, it is the fourth day.’ She thought it absurd to remove the stone from the sepulchre, because now the body of Lazarus was putrified. But Christ in this instance designed to show his own incredible power by restoring a putrid body to life. So the faithful say here, The Lord will raise us up after two days: “Though exile seems to be like the sepulchre, where putridity awaits us, yet the Lord will, by his ineffable power, overcome whatever may seem to obstruct our restoration.” We now perceive, as I think, the simple and genuine sense of this passage.
But at the same time I do not deny but that God has exhibited a remarkable and a memorable instance of what is here said in his only-begotten Son. As often then as delay begets weariness in us, and when God seems to have thrown aside every care of us, let us flee to Christ; for, as it has been said, His resurrection is a mirror of our life; for we see in that how God is wont to deal with his own people: the Father did not restore life to Christ as soon as he was taken down from the cross; he was deposited in the sepulchre, and he lay there to the third day. When God then intends that we should languish for a time, let us know that we are thus represented in Christ our head, and hence let us gather materials of confidence. We have then in Christ an illustrious proof of this prophecy. But in the first place, let us lay hold on what we have said, that the faithful here obtain hope for themselves, though God extends not immediately his hand to them, but defers for a time his grace of redemption. Then he adds, We shall live in his sight, or before him. Here again the faithful strengthen themselves, for God would favor them with his paternal countenance, after he had long turned his back on them, We shall live before his face. For as long as God cares not for us, a sure destruction awaits us; but as soon as he turns his eyes to us, he inspires life by his look alone. Then the faithful promise this good to themselves that God’s face will shine again after long darkness: hence also they gather the hope of life, and at the same time withdraw themselves from all those obstacles which obscure the light of life; for while we run and wander here and there, we cannot lay hold on the life which God promises to us, as the charms of this world are so many veils, which prevent our eyes to see the paternal face of God. We must then remember that this sentence is added, that the faithful, when it pleases God to turn his back on them, may not doubt but that he will again look on them. Let us now go on —

A Threefold Cord

March 29th, 2008

Here is an highly competent summary of the Messianic thrust of the Old Testament.

Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 2, Chapter 5, pp.113,114

The most important point here is to keep in mind the organic unity of the Old Testament. Its predictions are not isolated, but features of one grand prophetic picture; its ritual and institutions parts of one great system; its history, not loosely connected events, but an organic development tending towards a definite end. Viewed in its innermost substance, the history of the Old Testament is not different from its typical institutions, nor yet these two from its predictions. The idea, underlying all, is God’s gracious manifestation in the world – the Kingdom of God; the meaning of all – the establishment of this Kingdom upon earth. That gracious purpose was, so to speak, individualized, and the Kingdom actually established in the Messiah. Both the fundamental and the final relationship in view was that of God towards man, and of man towards God: the former as expressed by the word Father; the latter by that of Servant – or rather the combination of the two ideas: ‘Son-Servant.’ This was already implied in the so-called Protevangel; and in this sense also the words of Jesus hold true: ‘Before Abraham came into being, I am.’
But, narrowing our survey to where the history of the Kingdom of God begins with that of Abraham, it was indeed as Jesus said: ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he should see My day, and he saw it, and was glad.’ For, all that followed from Abraham to the Messiah was one, and bore this twofold impress: heavenwards, that of Son; earthwards, that of Servant. Israel was God’s Son – His ‘first-born;’ their history that of the children of God; their institutions those of the family of God; their predictions those of the household of God. And Israel was also the Servant of God – ‘Jacob My Servant;’ and its history, institutions, and predictions those of the Servant of the Lord. Yet not merely Servant, but Son-Servant – ‘anointed’ to such service. This idea was, so to speak, crystallised in the three great representative institutions of Israel. The ‘Servant of the Lord’ in relation to Israel’s history was Kingship in Israel; the ‘Servant of the Lord’ in relation to Israel’s ritual ordinances was the Priesthood in Israel; the ‘Servant of the Lord’ in relation to prediction was the Prophetic order. But all sprang from the same fundamental idea: that of the ‘Servant of Jehovah.’
One step still remains. The Messiah and His history are not presented in the Old Testament as something separate from, or superadded to, Israel. The history, the institutions, and the predictions of Israel run up into Him. In this respect there is deep significance in the Jewish legend (frequently introduced; see, for example, Tanch. ii. 99 a; Deb. R. 1), that all the miracles which God had shown to Israel in the wilderness would be done again to redeemed Zion in the ‘latter days.’ He is the typical Israelite, nay, typical Israel itself – alike the crown, the completion, and the representative of Israel. He is the Son of God and the Servant of the Lord; but in that highest and only true sense, which had given its meaning to all the preparatory development. As He was ‘anointed’ to be the ‘Servant of the Lord,’ not with the typical oil, but by ‘the Spirit of Jehovah’ ‘upon’ Him, so was He also the ‘Son’ in a unique sense. His organic connection with Israel is marked by the designations ‘Seed of Abraham’ and ‘Son of David,’ while at the same time He was essentially, what Israel was subordinately and typically: ‘Thou art My Son – this day have I begotten Thee.’ Hence also, in strictest truthfulness, the Evangelist could apply to the Messiah what referred to Israel, and see it fulfilled in His history: ‘Out of Egypt have I called my Son.’ And this other correlate idea, of Israel as ‘the Servant of the Lord,’ is also fully concentrated in the Messiah as the Representative Israelite, so that the Book of Isaiah, as the series of predictions in which His picture is most fully outlined, might be summarised as that concerning ‘the Servant of Jehovah.’ Moreover, the Messiah, as Representative Israelite, combined in Himself as ‘the Servant of the Lord’ the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, and joined together the two ideas of ‘Son’ and ‘Servant.’ And the final combination and full exhibition of these two ideas was the fulfillment of the typical mission of Israel, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God among men.


September 9th, 2007

I quote Thomas Scott quoting:

With respect to the figurative language of the poetical and prophetical books, the following observations may be given from the work of W. Jones on that subject.

From the difficulty we are under of comprehending such things as are above natural reason, the manner of the scripture is as extraordinary as its matter; and it must be so from the necessity of the case. Of all the objects of sense we have ideas, and our minds and memories are stored with them. But of invisible things we have no ideas till they are pointed out to us by revelation; and as we cannot know them immediately, such as they are in themselves, after the manner in which we know sensible objects, they must be communicated to us by the mediation of such things as we already comprehend. For this reason, the scripture is found to have a language of its own, which does not consist of words, but of signs or figures taken from visible things. It could not otherwise treat of God who is a Spirit, and of the spirit of man, and of a spiritual world; which no words can describe. Words are the arbitrary signs of natural things; but the language of revelation goes a step further, and uses some things as signs of other things; in consequence of which, the world which we now see becomes a sort of commentary on the mind of God, and explains the world in which we believe. [Compare Aquinas’ beautiful statement on this point. -RZ]

It being the the professed design of the scripture to teach us such things as neither see nor know of ourselves, its style and manner must be such as are no where else to be found. It must abound with figurative expressions: it cannot proceed without them: and if we descend to an actual examination of particulars, we find it assisting and leading our faculties forward, by an application of all visible objects to a figurative use, from the glorious orb which shines in the firmament, to a grain of seed that is buried in the earth.”—

To one or other of these five heads, the spiritual language of the scripture may be reduced, and from them the matter of it borrowed: 1. From the images of nature, or visible things as representations of things invisible. 2. From the institutions of the law, prefiguring the things of the gospel. 3. From the persons of the prophets, as types of the great Prophet and Saviour that was to come. 4. From the history of the church of Israel as an ensample to the Christian world. 5. From the miraculous acts of Moses, Christ, and others, as signs of the saving power of God towards the souls of men. All these things compose the figurative language of the bible; and that interpretation which opens and applies them to the objects of faith, is called a spiritual interpretation; as being agreeable to that testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy.”—

The Day of the Lord

August 20th, 2007

Albert Barnes, Notes on Amos 5:18

“The Day of the Lord” had already become the name for every day of judgment, leading on to the Last Day. The principle of all God’s judgments is one and the same. One and the same are the characters of those who are to be judged. In one and the same way, is each judgment looked forward to, neglected, prepared for, believing, disbelieved. In one and the same way, our Lord has taught us, will the Great Day come, as the judgments of the flood or upon Sodom, and will people prepared or unprepared, as they were then. Words then, which describe the character of any day of Judgment, do, according to the Mind of God the Holy Spirit, describe all, and the last also.

At this point in my studies I have the uneasy sensation that I have read more generalizations about the Puritans, than Puritans themselves. I suppose I have one distinction, in that I have read Cotton Mather’s book on natural philosophy. I also have the disagreeable feeling that perhaps my condition is rather more common than it should be: that too many of us have read more secondary literature than we have bothered to read source material. And this is a problem, because even good secondary literature (which can easily be a very small proportion of the secondary literature available) is rarely as good as the source –perhaps the most frequent type of occurrence comes in situations where something like Dryden’s Absalom and Achithophel provides the occasion for Dr. Johnson’s criticism of it in his Life of Dryden; that is to say, in cases where the criticism is rather more felicitous than the work criticized.

In order to this inquiry, however, I am afraid that I must base myself upon a generalization, in this case from J.I Packer’s article “The Puritans as Interpreters of Scripture”, to be found in Puritan Papers, volume 1, 1956-1959, pp.191-201.

Packer summarizes the Puritan approach by listing two presuppositions, and six rules.

The first presupposition is that the Bible is the word of God, with the several implications of that position. The second is that Scripture teaches us what to believe about God, and what God demands that we do (at this point Packer quotes WSC Q&A3).

Now follow six rules, in a series of couplets:

1. Interpret Scripture literally and grammatically (where he quotes the fine line from Durham “there is a great difference between an allegorical interpretation of Scripture, and an interpretation of allegorical Scripture”).

2. Interpret Scripture consistently and harmonistically. Under this heading Packer gives a worthy quotation from Bridge:

You know how it was with Moses, when he saw two men fighting, one an Egyptian, and another an Israelite, he killed the Egyptian; but when he saw two Hebrews fighting, now, saith he, I will go and reconcile them, for they are brethren; why so, but because he was a good man, and gracious? So also it is with a gracious heart; when he sees the Scripture fighting with an Egyptian, an heathen author, or apocryphal, he comes and kills the heathen … the Egyptian, or the apocrypha; but when he sees two Scriptures at variance (in view, though in truth not), Oh, saith he, these are brethren, and they may be reconciled, I will labour all I can to reconcile them; but when a man shall take every advantage of seeming difference in Scripture, to say, Do ye see what contradictions there are in this book, and not labour to reconcile them; what doth this argue but that the corruption of a man’s nature is boiled up to an unknown malice against the word of the Lord; take heed therefore of that.

3. Interpret Scripture doctrinally and theocentrically. Scripture is didactic: and one of the fundamental thing it teaches is that God, and not we, are ultimate.

4. Interpret Scripture Christologically and evangelically. Here Packer gives Isaac Ambrose’s 8-point list of how Scripture is about Christ, which mentions types, covenant, promises, sacraments, genealogies, chronologies, law and gospel.

5. Interpret Scripture experimentally and practically. Scripture speaks to our experience and to our doing. [While on this subject, it should be noted that although it is possible to elevate this particular couplet (or part of it) above all other elements of Scripture, that we must not over-react and despise it: when all is said and done, would you draw your ideas of experience and duty from any other source? -RZ]

6. Interpret Scripture with a faithful and realistic application. In preaching the relevance of Scripture must be demonstrated and used.

And to bring these elements into the realm of one’s own Bible study, Packer lists these six questions:

1. What do these words actually mean?

2. What light do other Scriptures throw in this text? Where and how does it fit into the total Biblical revelation?

3. What truths does it teach about God, and about man in relation to God?

4. How are these truths related to the saving work of Christ, and what light does the gospel of Christ throw upon them?

5. What experiences do these truths delineate, or explain, or seek to create or cure? For what practical purpose do they stand in Scripture?

6. How do they apply to myself and others in our own actual situation? To what present human condition do they speak, and what are they telling us to believe and do?

Now my own opinion is that those 6 couplets are pretty good, although 5 and 6 do seem to overlap to some extent. But it does seem necessary to add yet one more:

7. Interpret Scripture covenantally and eschatologically. I suppose there can be little doubt that with the first adverb in that couplet the Puritans would whole-heartedly agree: think of the massive quantities of treatises devoted precisely to the theme of the covenant of grace. As for the second, I am not so sure of the Puritan response. But I think that when you ask, “How is this part of Scripture contributory to the plan of God to manifest His sons and redeem creation?” — I say, when that question is raised, the answer necessarily involves the covenant, and at least begins to tell you what stage of the process that text is in. Which brings it back of course, to the point of interpreting Scripture consistently and harmonistically: of interpreting Scripture as a whole.

God has made a covenant, with a definite end in view: in order to understand His revelation, it is certainly at least desirable to keep this in mind. And so Packer’s summary of the Puritan hermeneutic may well function to aid us toward the better understanding of Scripture; but I think we are well served to add the final couplet, if not to our account of the Puritan hermeneutic itself, at least to our adaptation of it for our own use.

Insipid Literalism

February 16th, 2007

John Calvin, Commentary on Amos 8:9

Were any one disposed to lay-hold on what is literal and to cleave to it, his notions would be gross and insipid, not only with regard to the writings of the Prophets, but also with regard to all other writings; for there is no language which has not its figurative expressions.


Prophecy & History

December 6th, 2006

Sir George Adam Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, v. 1, p.12


[The prophet is] but the messenger of God at some crisis in the life or conduct of His people. His message is never out of touch with events. These form either the subject-matter or the proof or the execution of every oracle he utters. It is, therefore, God not merely as Truth, but even more as Providence, whom the prophet reveals. And although that Providence includes the full destiny of Israel and mankind, the prophet brings the news of it, for the most part, piece by piece, with reference to some present sin or duty, or some impending crisis.