Wednesday, July 16, 2008

'MacArthur's Millennial Manifesto' - 2

Another dispensationalist error is identified by Waldron in MacArthur’s use of the common accusation of allegorical interpretation leveled against amillennial and postmillennial interpreters of the Revelation and the prophets. He points out that this is a mistake, and in fact the dispensationalist is guilty of an error himself in not acknowledging, though he does in practice recognise, the existence of different genres of literature in the Bible, which require to be interpreted in distinct ways. For example, no-one interprets the poetical language of the Psalms as they do the historical narratives found in, for example, the Former Prophets. Indeed, the error of true allegorists is that they DO interpret the Kings as though it were the same as Psalms. The dispensational statement that ‘if the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense’ is quite inadequate and fails to take into account the analogy of faith. The old Brethren writers and preachers were certainly guilty of a large number of exegetical fallacies, and we think this idea of a single ‘normal hermeneutic’ for the whole Bible is one of them.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as allegorizing, plainly there is. We would however emphasise that there is a difference between those things that are expressly presented as signs and making historical passages into allegories. We have in our possession a copy of Emmanuel Swedenborg’s ‘Heaven and Hell’. Swedenborg was a genuine allegorizer. We give a random example:

“The members, organs and viscera of man, when mentioned in the Word, denote similar things, for every expression in the Word has a signification derived from correspondence; by the head, therefore, is signified intelligence and wisdom; by the breast, charity; by the loins, conjugal love; by the arms and hands, the power of truth; by the feet the natural [principle]; by the eyes, understanding; by the nostrils, perception; by the ears, obedience; by the kidneys, the purification of truth; and so forth.” (‘The Future Life’, [London, the Missionary and Tract Society of the New Church, 1879] P. 31)

This is true allegorizing, affixing a symbolic meaning to every word of Scripture and interpreting the Bible (especially the historical portions) according to these symbolic meanings. So, for example, taking Swedenborg for our example, we might say that when the Scripture says ‘Stretch out your hand’, what it really means is that we should exalt the power of Truth. That is allegory. But when The Apostle Paul speaks in Romans 11 of the one olive tree, that is symbolism, for he makes it clear that this olive tree is not a literal tree but a symbol of the people of God. So the ‘Beyond Creationism’ people who make the early chapters of Genesis a picture of Israel’s judgment are allegorizing, but those who say that the Harlot of the Revelation is symbolic of the antichristian apostate Church are simply seeking to understand a symbol. This loose use of the term ‘allegorical’ is something that we confess that we dislike. Particularly as it would be a brave man who compared William Hendriksen with Swedenborg!!! Allegorical is not a synonym for symbolic. The two are different, at least in modern English usage. We would prefer to reserve the term 'allegorical' interpretation for the illegitimate application of a symbolical hermeneutic. the book of Revelation is explicitly symbolic, and only makes sense interpreted in this way.

Of which more, God willing, next time.

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