Second Criticism: Hermeneutical Priority Must Be Given to the New Testament over the Old Testament and the More Literal New Testament Passages over the More Figurative. (Continued.)
In my last post I said that in a very real sense Waymeyer’s book constitutes an emphatic denial of (what I thought were) self-evident hermeneutical principles. Those principles were that clear passages must be given priority over difficult passages, literal passages over figurative passages, and general truths about eschatology before the details of prophecy. He does this by giving hermeneutical priority to Old Testament prophecy and Revelation 20 over the teaching of the New Testament. I am incredulous, but let me respond to Waymeyer with something more than incredulity.
First, let me affirm a concern of Waymeyer’s which I believe has some validity. He says: “The second problem concerns the use of the two-age model as an interpretive grid.” (9) He warns that such a use of the two-age model “silences the contribution of those passages by forcing them to conform to his theological system.” He adds: “In this way, systematic theology is used to determine exegesis rather than vice versa.” (9) In general, it seems to me, this is a fair warning with regard to the use of the hermeneutical principle known as the analogy of faith. Care must be taken not to silence the richness of divine revelation by a too facile assumption that we know what Scripture cannot say in light of our understanding of other indisputable truths of Scripture. Divine revelation is greater and more mysterious than our finite and fallen minds may realize. No doubt, the analogy of faith has been abused by those who have deduced contradictions where there was only supplementation by other plain truths of Scripture. This is a danger of which Systematicians must always beware.
The real danger in our day, however, is the tendency of Evangelicals to interpret Scripture in a way uninformed by historical theology and detached from any recognizable systematic theology. Thus, the danger about which Waymeyer warns is probably not the greatest danger we face today. Instances could be multiplied of interpretations of biblical passages which simply refuse to confront the practical contradictions they impose on ordinary Christians. One reputable theologian argues that the exegesis of Hebrews 3, 6, and 10 teaches the apostasy of genuine Christians. Yet he refuses to show how this is consistent with other passages that teach the opposite and even refuses to interpret those passages in a way consistent with their exegesis of Hebrews.
Listen to Calvin R. Schoonhoven in the article entitled, “The Analogy of Faith,” in Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 105: “Although the “analogy-of-faith” devotee may assert that whatever these texts say they cannot teach that a “saved” person could be forever lost so as never again to be able to experience repentance, this is precisely what is taught here. These statements must not be interpreted in the context of other teachings; they must be interpreted in the context of Hebrews and from the perspective of this writer. Such strong words should not be interpreted by some sort of “illumination” from other passages.”
Such exegesis is simply irresponsible. The goal of all Christian teaching is to teach Christians to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). It is simply impossible for the ordinary Christian to practice a theological contradiction.
This is not, of course, the practical error into which Waymeyer falls. He believes that ultimately Scripture is self-consistent. He actually uses the analogy of faith himself to argue that Revelation 20 must expand our understanding of Luke 20 and what we might naturally conclude it means. (105) I say these things, however, because we all need to remember the necessity and responsibility of providing a coherent interpretation of Scripture to the Christian church. We may not wave aside the analogy of faith in our hermeneutics. It is in principle perfectly legitimate for Amillennialists to argue that the clear teaching of clear Scriptures require something other than a Premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20. If, for instance, the New Testament teaches—as it assuredly does—a general judgment of all men living and dead at Christ’s Second Coming issuing in the eternal state, then whatever Revelation 20 teaches it cannot teach Premillennialism. I think that it is plain that the New Testament does teach such a general judgment in many places and in clear language and that such a judgment is legitimately part of the analogy of faith by which the interpretation of Revelation 20 must be controlled.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.