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 pointed out that Waymeyer’s priorities ignore and contradict the plain teaching of the Bible, that the prophetic genre of revelation is characterized as “dark sayings” (Numbers 12:6-8) and cannot be given priority over the clear and literal deliverances of the New Testament. My third comment builds on this reality.
Third, and now to be more specific, it is clear that Revelation 20 is also a passage that comes to us in the visionary, prophetic, or apocalyptic genre. It also, then, is by definition a figurative, less clear, and more obscure passage. As such, it must not be allowed to trump the clear teaching of the rest of the New Testament. On what basis do I say this?
I say it, first, because if anybody can actually read the rest of Revelation (especially chapters 4-19) and not find themselves scratching their heads again and again about the meaning of its prophetic visions, well, they are better than I am and almost all other Christians. Yes, there are high points like Revelation 5 which deal with the high points of Scripture like the ascension and enthronement of Christ. Nevertheless, even these passages are stated in what is clearly, highly and continuously, symbolic language. Revelation 20 may thus seem clear from within a Premillennial perspective, but it certainly has not seemed clear to those coming from other perspectives. It also could be shown that Premillennialism has its own many internal controversies about the meaning and implications of Revelation 20.
But the main and even more cogent point is this. The Book of Revelation bears all the marks of prophetic vision and is, thus, what Numbers 12:8 calls “dark sayings.” This includes Revelation 20. On what basis do I say that? One of the clearest markers of the prophetic, visionary, or apocalyptic genre is the use of the words, “I saw,” in its various forms. This marker occurs three times in Revelation 20:1-10 (once in verse 1 and twice in verse 4). These words frequently designate in Scripture a vision or dream seen by the inner eye of the prophet in his mind. In those cases the vision does not refer literally to anything in the external or physical world. There are simply symbolic parallels between the visionary world and the external world.
The Greek verb translated, “I saw,” in Revelation 20:1 and 4 actually occurs 63 times in the Book of Revelation and almost exclusively refers to the visions and dreams which the Apostle John saw as a prophet. The peculiarity of the genre of the Revelation is illustrated by the fact that these 63 occurrences are almost 1/7th of its 483 occurrences in the New Testament. The darkness or difficulty of such language as compared to normal or literal language is underscored not only in Numbers 12:8, but also in another book that is marked by this genre, Daniel.
In Daniel 8 Daniel sees the vision of the ram, the goat, the little horn, and the suspension of regular sacrifice in the temple. The word used in the LXX of Daniel 8:1-2 to identify this vision is the same as that used in Revelation 20 and throughout the Revelation. After the conclusion of the vision the difficulty of interpreting such visionary revelation is underscored in Daniel 8:15-17: “When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man. And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, “Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision.” So he came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, “Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end.” Clarifying interpretation is necessary for such revelation as Daniel was given in Daniel 8 in order for it to be understood. Such interpretive help is not necessary for normal speech and literal communication, but such interpretive help is necessary for visions like those seen in Daniel 8.
Hence, for Waymeyer to maintain the hermeneutical priority of Revelation 20 over the rest of the New Testament betrays great insensitivity to its literary genre and a refusal to acknowledge the comparative difficulty of interpreting such language as compared to the normal speech of historical narrative and epistolary discourse which dominates the rest of the New Testament. We must in our interpretation of the Bible give hermeneutical priority to the clear before the difficult, the literal before the figurative, and the general before the detailed.
More to come…
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.