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.)
Having affirmed and qualified Waymeyer’s concern about a misuse of the analogy of faith, let me now critique his giving hermeneutical priority to Old Testament prophecy and Revelation 20 over the teaching of the New Testament. This brings me to my second comment regarding Waymeyer’s hermeneutical priorities.
Second, and by way of explaining my incredulity at Waymeyer’s virtual denial that prophetic literature is less clear than other genres of literature found in the Bible, let me explain why I assume this is true.
Let me begin this explanation by making what I hope will be a straightforward distinction. When I speak of prophetic literature in what follows, I am speaking of a genre of literature found in the Bible and not a doctrinal subject. In other words, I am saying that there are many passages in the Bible which deal with a prophecy (or last things) as a subject, but yet do not come to us in the Bible in a prophetic genre. The distinction I am talking about here is a distinction of literary genres. I am contrasting the prophetic or apocalyptic genre with other literary genres found in the Bible. Historical narrative and epistolary discourse are examples of other literary genres. Thus, prophecy (the doctrine of last things) may be addressed in historical narrative or epistolary discourse, but that does not make such passages as to their literary genre “prophetic.”
Does the Bible itself identify a “prophetic” literary genre? What is the nature of this literary genre? Are we justified in judging it less clear and more figurative than other literary genres? Let me attempt to answer each of these questions by turning to one of the pivotal passages with regard to prophets and prophecy.
In Numbers 12 Aaron and Miriam raise a complaint against Moses which included the question: “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” (Num. 12:2 NAU). Yahweh appears to them and defends His servant, Moses. In so doing He makes clear the nature of prophecy as a genre of revelation. Here are the key verses:
He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. “Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?” (Num. 12:6-8 NAU)
In this passage are found the answers to each of our three questions raised above.
Does the Bible itself identify a “prophetic” literary genre? Yes, the Bible does identify a specific prophetic genre of revelation and distinguishes it (in this case) from the directness of the personal conversations with God connected to Theophany.
What is the nature of this literary genre? The passage once more makes this clear. Prophetic revelation is given characteristically through visions and dreams. Visions and dreams are revelations made through vivid symbols appearing in the mental world of the prophet and not in the outward world, visible to all.
Are we justified in judging it less clear and more figurative than other literary genres? Yes, the contrast between the theophanic, personal communication with Moses and the prophetic, visionary communication with Aaron and Miriam is emphasized in Numbers 12:8 “With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?”
To put the problem for Waymeyer succinctly, he pervasively ignores the literary genre of the Old Testament prophecies to which he appeals against Amillennialism. As visionary, prophetic utterances we must be prepared to understand them in a highly symbolic fashion. The naively literal approach which boldly ignores their New Testament interpretation is both wrong-headed and misguided.
The great illustration of the disastrous results of such a naively literal approach can be seen from what it yields in connection with the great prophecy of the eschatological temple in Ezekiel 40-48. Waymeyer does not quite affirm the typical Dispensational interpretation of this passage. Indeed, at points he seems uncomfortable with this interpretation (61-63). Nevertheless, his literalistic interpretation of Old Testament prophecies and his pressing of them against the natural meaning of New Testament statements entails upon his view the disastrous Dispensational interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48 (105). For interpreted with the same naively literalistic method that Waymeyer uses, Ezekiel 40-48 results in the re-erection of Judaism in the Dispensational Millennium. I have documented this result in my critical review of Barry Horner’s Future Israel. Let me, however, review them here.
A consistently literal interpretation of Ezekiel’s prophecies in Ezekiel 40-48 leads to the following necessary results: in the future millennial temple there are tables for slaughtering burnt and sin offerings and the restoration of sin and guilt offerings and the sprinkling of blood on the altar (40:39; 43:18-27; 44:9-11, 13-15); there will be the restoration of the Zadokite Levitical priesthood (40:46-47; 43:18-19; 44:9-11, 13-15); the temple is a holy place to which no one “uncircumcised in flesh” may come (41:4; 43:12, 13; 44:9-11); there will be holy garments that the priest are to wear only when they minister in the Temple (42:14; 44:17-18); there is the restoration of the Shekinah glory overshadowing the Temple (43:1-14); this system will go on forever in the New Earth (43:7); there will be the restoration of the ceremonial law in which contact with dead bodies creates ceremonial defilement (43:7); the altar will have to be cleansed before being used (43:18-27); there will be special priestly laws about their haircuts, the consumption of alcoholic beverages and about marrying only virgins (44:20-22); there will be laws about ceremonial purity and defilement restored, taught by the priests, and enforced by their judgments (44:23-24); and, finally, there will be the restoration of the religious calendar of the Old Testament including seventh-day Sabbath observance, new moons, and the year of Jubilee (44:24; 45:17; 46:1, 3, 16-17). These are the consequences of the hermeneutic which allows Waymeyer to interpret the visions of Old Testament prophecy in such a way as to appeal to it against what “one might understandably conclude”—his words (105)—from the New Testament. Each of these contradict the plain deliverances of the New Testament.
Thus, I must protest against the kind of naively literal interpretation which lies under the hermeneutical priority Waymeyer gives the Old Testament prophecies over the New Testament interpretation of those prophecies.
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.