Thursday, May 28, 2009

About being literal again – hermeneutics

Over at Michael Patton's Reclaiming the mind forum there's a discussion about Steve Gregg and his views on different topics.
In his article at his site Steve has the following observations.
It seems people continue to be confused about what literal means when doing hermeneutics.

Consider Ryrie’s comments and then Steve Gregg's in response.

In discussing the angel fallen from heaven to release the locusts from the pit, Ryrie writes:
“Sometimes the word "star" refers to a heavenly body (as in 8:12). But the word is often used to refer to some kind of intelligent creature, usually an angel (cf. 1:20; Job 38:7). Both meanings are perfectly consistent with plain, normal interpretation. In English we use this word in the same two ways. Literally, a star means an astronomical entity; and equally literally, though as a figure of speech, we use the word to mean a person, like the star of a football game.”
Gregg comments:
"One is tempted to ask whether there is any method of interpretation that would be regarded by such an interpreter as recognizably non-literal, since the use of "a figure of speech" is regarded (when convenient) to be "equally literal" as the ordinary lexical meaning of a word. The applicability of the term "literal" to such usage suggests an almost infinite flexibility in determining what may be called "plain," "normal," and "literal" interpretation.
I have frequently heard teachers claim that, when convenient to their interpretation, "literal" interpretation does not preclude the use of symbolism, parable or figures of speech. I think these people are giving the word a novel new flexibility. I am using the word "literal" as the dictionary and most people understand it, i.e. as meaning "according to the exact meaning; not figurative" other words, I am using it literally."

Here we need to observe that Ryrie was speaking about literal in regard to a word. It is quite a different thing to be speaking about being literal in regard to the meaning of a sentence. It is the context, that is the sentence that provides whether something is to be taken as a metaphor, or figurative, or symbolism and so on. eg “like Bethlehem” the word “like” indicates figurative. So Ryrie is quite correct when he says one understands the word star literally and in it’s historical sense, and then understands the phrase “the star of a football game” as figurative.

Take Gregg’s comments focusing on Revelation.

1. { Dispensationalists speak of } The law of frequent mention:
“All agree that [the number 1000] is used symbolically in Psalm 50 [v.10], but the phrase ‘a thousand years’ occurs six times within the narrative of Revelation 20.”
Then we have Gregg’s comment:
The term “the Lamb” occurs 22 times in Revelation, but this does not make it a literal description of Christ.

This really is nonsense. Of course the mere frequency of a word does not make it a literal description of Christ. Behind the statement of numerical frequency of the title is the Biblical understanding of the Title in regard to Jesus.

The word Lamb is taken literally. It means an animal. However further hermeneutical investigation based on the grammatical historical method tells us that in the Bible a lamb was used in the sacrificial system, so when John the Baptist points to Jesus – clearly a man , a person, as 'the lamb of God' he is pointing to the sacrificial nature of the Son of God here on earth.

We need clarification in these issues, not muddled thinking.

In Christ,

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