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Romans 9:1-6 by Robert Dean
Oh no! You see a letter from the IRS peeking out of your mailbox. After reading it, you don't assume it has a hidden meaning but that it means what it says. The same is true of the Bible. Listen to this lesson to learn about literal interpretation of the Scriptures. See how using allegorical instead of literal interpretation has led to Replacement Theology which teaches that God's promises to Israel now belong to the Church. Find out how this results in Christian anti-Semitism and its many evils.
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 45 secs

Hermeneutics and Replacement Theology
Romans 9:1-6

 

In light of the trip I was on a couple of weeks ago to Israel I'm going to continue to show some videos. The sound quality on this one is a little shaky in the first 15 or 20 seconds because there was some machinery running in the background. Then that got shut off so that will pick up. The other thing that may be a little difficult for some of you is that the lady we're listening to is an Ethiopian Jew, one of the so-called Falasha which is actually a derogatory Ethiopian term meaning a foreigner or someone who's been in exile. I chose this particular one to show because it is an extremely moving story of her life.

 

I heard about five or six stories very, very similar to hers from the different Ethiopian Jews. This lady is a director at a Kibbutz known as Yemen Orde named for Orde Wingate. If you don't remember, Orde Wingate was a British officer who was a little bit eccentric. Churchill and many others thought he was just about crazy. He was really one of the fathers or grandfathers of the whole concept of special warfare, special operations, asymmetrical warfare, that kind of thing. He was a little bit strange in that he would do things to test himself to see what a human being could endure. Instead of walking across the Sahara Desert at night he walked across it during the heat of the noonday sun with no water to see how long he could last, to test his own endurance. That way he could see what his men could actually endure under the worst possible conditions. He was dispatched by the British during the time of what is called the Arab Insurrection or the Arab Revolt, from about 1935 to 1938 in what was then the British mandate of what was Palestine.

 

What the British didn't understand was how much of a Zionist he was. He was reared in a Plymouth Brethren home where he and his sister were taught the Old Testament and the whole Bible from the time they were infants. The value of the Jewish people and Israel to God's plan was drilled into them so he had a tremendous love for the Jewish people. Unfortunately both he and his sister apostatized from the faith when they went into their adult years. His sister became a full blown atheist and he became something of an agnostic. In fact he loved the Jewish people and he loved the Old Testament God but he had questions about the Trinity and some other aspects which he never quite resolved. 

 

After his time in Israel where he trained Moshe Dayan and many other young men who later became the backbone of the IDF, the Israeli Army, the British pulled him out because he was so pro-Israel and pro-Zionist. During World War II he was responsible for running the Italians out of Ethiopia and so there was a connection there to the Ethiopians in his background. He came in from the west which was not thought to be possible so basically he snuck in through the back door with a small number of troops and surprised the Italians and ran them out of Ethiopia.

 

Then he was sent by the British during World War II to infiltrate India where he developed a group that went behind enemy lines, behind Japanese lines in Burma called the Chindits. He was killed when a bomber carrying him and several Americans flying over Burma was shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire in 1944. After the war their remains were discovered and since most of those who were in the plane were Americans and because they had no way of determining whose body was which, they brought all of them back to Arlington National Cemetery and buried them in a mass grave there. Because of his devotion to Israel and because of his devotion to the Zionist cause he was given the title hayedid, a Hebrew word meaning "the friend". Every year on the anniversary of his death the Israeli ambassador to the United States goes to his grave and has a ceremony where they recount his great deeds for Israel and put flowers on his tomb.

 

That's a great story but there's an additional story related to this Kibbutz named for him. It's a youth village for troubled youth. They have a tremendous program and originally they started off with orphans that had survived the Holocaust and had no family. Eventually it turned into a place where other orphans and troubled youth could come and they do a tremendous job turning then around. During the Israeli War for Independence this kibbutz came under attack from the Arab forces and they were without food. There's an Israeli legend, according to the author of this biography on Orde Wingate, "Fire in the Night", by John Berman and Colin Smith. They identify that as simply a legend that his widow, Lorna, flew over the kibbutz and dropped Wingate's personal Bible to the personal defenders. Instead they write, "Contrary to the popular Israeli legend, she was refused permission to make the flight for reasons of her own safety. Instead she handed the Bible to a group of women who with their children had been evacuated from the settlement. She inscribed it on July 5, 1948, "To the defenders of Yemin Orde. Since Orde Wingate is with you in the spirit although he cannot lead you in the flesh I send you the Bible he carried in all his campaigns and from which he drew the inspiration of his victories. May it be a covenant between you and him in triumph or defeat now and always." That Bible is now preserved at another kibbutz, Ein Harod, which is near Harod Springs where Gideon called out the 300. We went there on our last trip to Israel. You see you do all kinds of things besides just look at Bible sites when you go over to Israel.

 

We went to the headquarters building at Ein Harod where Wingate ran his operations in training the special night fighters, the Haganah, the Israeli army at that time. So there's a connection to there with Ethiopia. There are a couple of big pictures of Wingate and his widow standing with David Ben Gurion who was the prime minister of Israel in early 50's. They were coming to begin this school they started after the war for independence.

Now this story of the Ethiopian Jews is a fascinating story. Lots of time you'll hear that it's just legend but we don't really know how much is true and how much is not true. The legend is that in Ethiopia which is where the Queen of Sheba was from, the queen who came to visit Solomon is that she was pregnant with Solomon's child when she went back to Ethiopia with an entourage of Jews. These Ethiopian Jews are said to be the descendants of that entourage.

 

There's also other historical truth in that there were a group of Jews who went to Egypt after the destruction of the Temple in 586 and various other groups that went down to that area so we're not really sure what their heritage is. They were called the Beta Israel, the house of Israel. Some think in their part of the legend that they descend from the lost tribe of Dan, that after the destruction of the northern Kingdom in 722 many of the tribe of Dan migrated down to Ethiopia.

 

Others believe that they are the descendants of Menilep the First of Ethiopia who was the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and that was the belief of the kings of Ethiopia, all the way down to Haile Selassie who was deposed in the late 50s. He claimed direct descent from the Queen of Sheba and Solomon. We don't have historical verification of that so it's uncertain.

 

There's also the view that they're descendants of Ethiopia Christians and pagans who converted to Judaism almost 1500 years ago and also the view that they're the descendants of Jews who fled from Israel after the destruction of the Temple in 586 and went down that way. The view among the Jews in determining whether they were authentic really has quite a history. I was not aware of this because we just hear the story of the legend a little bit but as early as the 1500s Egypt's chief rabbi, David ben Solomon Abuzimri known as Radbad, a nickname based on acronyms from his name, declared that in halecha, that is in Jewish legal sense, that the Beta Israel were indeed Jews. They're known by the Jewish community as far back as the fourth or fifth century.

 

By the 15th century they were accepted that they are indeed Jewish. This position from Radbad was reaffirmed in the 19th century. Almost all leading Jewish authorities accepted Beta Israel as true Jews in 1864. In 1908 the chief rabbis of 45 countries also affirmed that Beta Israel were true Jews and then after World War II and after the they deposed Halle Selassie, they became increasingly persecuted by the socialist, Marxist dictators that ruled Ethiopia so they were left impoverished. They were prohibited form observing any of their Jewish rituals. They were prohibited from teaching Hebrew which they had been teaching their children from generation to generation. They observed all of the Mosaic Law. They had no idea that the Jews had returned to Israel or to Jerusalem because they were so poor and they were located near Lake Tana, a remote area in Ethiopia. They had no news, no idea, no awareness of anything going on in the outside world. So this young woman, who is probably in her early 30s, is telling her story. I thought it was much more compelling than most of the stories I heard. I listened to the whole thing a couple of times today. I'm half deaf so if I can understand it and you'll work with the accent a little bit, then you'll hear this remarkable story. She's one of the directors of the youth village there.

 

If you wish to view this part of the class, please visit:

 

One of the reasons I'm showing these videos is to help us understand a little bit more about modern Israel and the role of Israel in the world because the assault on Israel today is coming not only from Islam and their historic anti-Semitism but we're seeing a resurrection of anti-Semitism in the Christian community and the resurrection of some of the worst forms of Replacement Theology. So let's open our Bibles again to Romans 9 and just review where we've been in our study.

 

Tonight we're going to look at the issue of hermeneutics and Replacement Theology, all part of our introduction to understanding Paul's focus on Israel and the Jewish people in Romans 9-11. One quote I had here from the Baltimore Jewish Times of November 9, 1979 about the Falasha, "Once they were kings a half a million strong. They matched their fervor with faith and outmatched the Muslim and Christian tribesmen around them to rule the mountain highlands around Lake Tana. They called themselves Beta Israel, the house of Israel, and used the Torah to guide their prayers and memories of the heights of Jerusalem as they lived in their thatched huts in Ethiopia. Their neighbors called them Falasha, the alien ones, the invaders. Even after three hundred years of rule, even the black-featured faces that matched those of all those around them did not make the Jews of Ethiopia secure governors of their secure destiny in Africa." That article was also significant because when that article came out in the late 70's there were movements to begin the movement of these Egyptian Jews, the Beta Israel, to Israel. The publication of that particular article by the Washington Jewish Week caused something of an uproar. It was the leaking of information about the first attempt by the U.S. and Israel to bring them out of Ethiopia and into Israel. It delayed that for some time.

 

Okay. Romans 9:1. As we saw last time in the first three verses the Apostle Paul emphasizes his emotional attachment, concern, and love for the Jewish people. He went so far as to say if he could he would die, be accursed eternally, he would be lost if they could all be saved. In verse 2 he says, "I wish myself that I were anathema from Christ for my countrymen according to the flesh." There's nothing negative toward Paul toward the Jewish people. He's not blaming them to be Christ-killers. He's not blaming them or saying they're under the judgment of God and Christians should be hostile to them. He shows his great love for the Jewish people.

 

In verse 4 he describes them as Israelites to whom pertain, and this is a tense which emphasizes their present possession of the adoption from Exodus, where they're adopted as God's first-born child, from the glory, the covenants [Abrahamic, Land, Davidic, and the New Covenant). He's saying these still pertain to Israel. They have not been abrogated. The giving of the law belongs to Israel. That not only describes a specific giving of the Law but the fact that God called out the descendants of Abraham to be the custodians of revelation, the custodians of the Scripture, preserving and passing it on. "The service to God" relates to their priesthood in the Temple and "the promises" which means these promises still hold true. They have not been set aside by God.

 

He says in verse 5, "Of whom are the fathers from whom according to the flesh Christ came." This means Jesus is fully Jewish in his humanity "whose overall and eternally blessed God. Amen." This is another profound statement there identifying Jesus as being fully God.

 

We looked briefly last time at the foundation of the Abrahamic Covenant, God's call of Abraham in Genesis 12: 1-3 where He promised that He would make Abraham a great nation and He would bless Abraham personally. That's not in the plural, it's singular where God is saying He is promising to bless Abraham and "make your name great". Then He says, "that you should be a blessing…" This is a command. I went over all the various things where Israel has done numerous things in agriculture and technology and medicine and numerous other things, advancing the field. One thing I didn't mention last time is something called IsraAid. This is a team which the Israeli government has developed consisting of doctors and a range of other specialists, such as EMTs and nurses, and a whole array of emergency equipment which they fly into places like Haiti when they had the big earthquake three of four years ago and in Japan when they had their earthquake, and in Indonesia when they had the tsunami. When the earthquake occurred in Haiti the IsraAid was in Haiti within about 48 hours, a couple of days before the US was there. Notice that Haiti is just around the corner for us but Israel's on-site solving problems, setting up triage, treating people, having surgery, rescuing people under the rubble, all of this on the spot again and again and again. They're fulfilling that responsibility of being a blessing to the world.

 

Then the key promise here in verse 3, "I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you." We saw it was two different Hebrew words used there. I keep emphasizing that the first word means a harsh curse and the second has the idea of just treating the Jews with disrespect. If you treat the Jews with disrespect, God is going to harshly judge you. That is one of the strongest verses to understand the horrors and the dangers for any people, any nation to get into when they get involved with anti-Semitism.

 

That's what I pointed out last time that there are two ideas that have plagued Christianity. One is the idea of Replacement Theology and the second is Christian anti-Semitism. As Christians we have this horrible legacy from the middle of the 2nd Century where anti-Semitic ideas began to develop within Christianity, leading to some of the most horrible things being said about the Jewish people and being done to the Jewish people and on down through the Middle Ages and to the present culminating in the worst expression of anti-Semitism ever. This was the Holocaust that was carried out by the Nazi government by Germany during World War II.

 

A lot of people don't realize this because it hasn't been published but recently we learned about a study that came out from the UN. This study had been going on for two or three years investigating concentration camps, death camps, and ghettos. There are hundreds and hundreds of both cities and towns all throughout Eastern Europe that created two or three block ghettos and forced hundreds of Jews into those ghettos as a concentration camp. So the question was how many ghettos were there under the Third Reich. This study that came out in January was seeing if there were 5 or 8 or 10 thousand. It was actually 42,500. That blew everybody's mind. Nobody had realized that.

 

What these two common views have in common is that they are built upon a fallacious view of interpretation that is not restricted to Biblical studies. How you interpret something, whether it's an e-mail from a girlfriend or boyfriend, whether it's a legal document, whether it's the United States Constitution, whether it's British Law, whether it's Shakespeare or a modern dramatist, whatever it is, how you interpret literature is always the same. It's always based on a literal, plain view of the language. Once you cut yourself off from that then an author can't communicate to his subject.

It's always interesting that in the modern or post-modern world of today, where you have these philosophers write condemning the historic view of any kind of a plain, literal view of interpretation, they do it in a way that they expect you to interpret their words in a plain, literal manner. That's the only way you can understand what they're saying and yet, they condemn that. We recognize that there are differences between different kinds of literature such as history, poetry, love sonnets, and drama. They all have their nuances but ultimately the interpretive framework is always based on a plain, literal interpretation. It doesn't deny the use of figures of speech, it doesn't deny the use of similes and metaphors, it doesn't deny the use of symbols but those symbols and metaphors are used in a way that's commonly understood to have something of a literal, specific, firm meaning.

 

So we need to begin our study of Replacement Theology and anti-Semitism as a backdrop for our study in Romans 9-11 by looking at the principles of interpretation. David L. Cooper was a missionary to the Jewish community. One of his young protégées was Arnold Fruchtenbaum and through Arnold's ministries and that of others, David Cooper managed to put together a rather catchy definition of interpretation which is very clear. He called it the Golden Rule of Interpretation and it states, "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, make no other sense. Therefore take every word at its ordinary, usual meaning unless the facts of the immediate context studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicates clearly otherwise." Okay, that's a great definition so let's talk about it a minute.

 

He starts off with "the plain sense of Scripture." This refers to the language, the words, and what they normally mean when looking the words up in a dictionary. You understand that in a dictionary sometimes a word may have five or six different meanings. They'll list them in order of the most common meaning and so on. Then when you look at a word you determine by the context what the meaning is. The meaning isn't based on what Webster's says. The same is true in Greek or Hebrew. The dictionary is simply the work of a lexicographer who has studied all the uses of a word and has categorized the major nuances that are found for the various meanings of that word in various cases of literature. That's why when you look at say, an English dictionary from the 1800s or 1700s, words that are contained in that dictionary may have a different meaning from that same word today. Why? Because language changes with usage. Usage determines meaning, not the dictionary. Words don't have absolute meanings.

 

Meanings are determined by context so when I teach word study to people who want to get into advanced study of the Scripture the key thing I tell them is don't go to your lexicons and ask what the various ones say. Instead look at all the usages and categorize them. That takes a lot of time. We shortcut a lot because of the fact that we don't always have the time to look at every single use of a word, especially if it's a more common word, like pistis for faith or amen for faith in the Old Testament. This may be a word used hundreds of times. It takes a lot of time to go through and analyze each usage and the context of each usage in order to boil down your meanings.

 

Fortunately there are lots of lexical tools that have done a lot of that work for us. The more you study the more you come to understand those different nuances but you have to look at what that normal, plain meaning is. That's the word that if I tell you something, you're going to understand it. You're going to read your instructions to fill out your income tax form. You want to make sure that you understand it in light of what the author said. That's another aspect to interpretation. In order for one person to communicate to another person then the person that's being communicated to needs to understand the intent and meaning of the one communicating. When you sit down and fill out your income tax and you read your instructions, you need to do it the way they say to do it, not the way you would like to do it. They have a word for people who fill that out on the basis of how they would like it to mean. They call them tax evaders and criminals. 

 

The same thing happened when you were say 14, 15, or 16 years old and you got a love note passed to you or now a love tweet or e-mail and your question is what did he or she mean? What did they intend to say? You don't care what you would like it to mean; you want to know what they said. We know that to be true. But when we get to be a junior or senior in high school, all of a sudden, the teacher starts trying to tell us that the way to understand poetry is to ask what it means to you. Of course if you go to some Sunday school classes, you're exposed to that much earlier. The teacher who's lazy comes in and hasn't ever studied anything and says, "Read this verse and tell me what it means to you."

 

We have a culture that's been brought up on this idea that the meaning of a text doesn't reside in the text, in the words of the text, or in the mind of the person who wrote the text but in your mind. We call that a subjective meaning because you're the subject and the meaning is dependent upon you. There's not an objective meaning that is verifiable from the author. Plain sense is just taking it at its face value. Plain sense is common sense. If you read a passage of Scripture and it says that Jesus wept, the plain sense of that is that Jesus cried. So you don't want to try to read into it something else. It's in the context of the death of Lazarus so it makes perfectly good sense. There's nothing contextually to make you think that this is really talking about some other kind of activity. So what's he's saying is that "when the plain sense makes common sense, don't try to read something else into it." It's simple.

 

When Paul says, "To the Israelites to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law," don't try to make Israel there the Church. Don't try to read in other passages the word "church" and say, "Well that must mean Israel." I have another book to show you. Tonight's really show-and-tell night. I've brought all kinds of things to show you tonight. This new book I'm working through is a two-volume book by Menachem Sokolov, written in 1920 on the history of Zionism. He's one of the few Zionist historians that I've read that actually starts with British Restorationism. His first chapter is called "England and the Bible." He writes about one of the primary principles that Martin Luther resurrected was literal interpretation. Luther only applied is as far as justification by faith. That was such a huge battle that he didn't have time to push it beyond that in his system. So he still had a lot of non-literal interpretation in his theology but in his view of salvation much of it was based on literal interpretation. That was around 1517 when the Protestant Reformation began.

 

So now in Sokolov's book we're up to about 1600 and over those 80 years or so there's been a development of theology as theologians have pushed out the application of literal interpretation to other areas of theology besides just salvation. So Sokolov, a Jewish author, writing about England says, "The education of a large number of Englishmen has consisted mainly in the reading of the Scriptures. The growth and the gradual diffusion of literal and moral thinking is due to the supreme influence of the Bible is the fact that can be recognized throughout the whole of English history. As a single instance we may take two writers who lived in different periods, one from the 1600s, one from the 1800s. The first is the Reverend Paul Knell, (1615–1654 – the height of the Puritan era) and Matthew Arnold (1822 –1888). Knell compared England with Israel. What other culture besides England has compared their experience with the Israelites? The answer is the black community. They've identified their slavery in America with the slavery of the Jews in Egypt. They made the same mistake because they idealized it and they used too much allegory. It wasn't literal.

 

That was a problem that Sokolov is pointing out that preceded Paul Knell. He goes on to say, "Knell compared England with Israel. The name of Israel was used by writers of his age with so much laxity that it is impossible to define the sense with which it is generally intended to convey. It often meant the religion of Israel but other times it was used as if it were a synonym for the word church. But Knell used the word in its plain meaning. For him Israel meant simply the people of Israel or the land of Israel." Literal interpretation. Israel means Israel. Israel doesn't mean the church. The church doesn't mean Israel. The term Israel is not a symbol for something. It's not a code word for the church. The church is not the Israel of the New Testament.

 

That's what a lot of people were doing up to Knell, and Knell is one of the few that began to shift with a literal interpretation. Most denominations, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and some Presbyterians were not literal. Those Presbyterians who were premillennial were more literal in these passages that related to Israel. This idea of literal interpretation doesn't just apply to the Bible. It applies to any kind of literature. One of my favorite quotes is from Chief Justice Clarence Thomas at a lecture to the Manhattan Institute about seven years ago. He said, "Let me put it this way. There are really only two ways to interpret the Constitution. Try to discern the best we can what the Framers intended, or make it up." You could insert the Bible for Constitution and it would be just as true. See that's how people are with the Bible. They either try to determine what the plain sense of Scripture is in light of what the author intended or they're just making it up. The trouble in a lot of churches and a lot of theologians is that they're just making it up. Once you get away from a literal interpretation, it can mean anything and there's no protection of truth any more. The truth, they say, is what it means to you and it can be different to what it means to me. That's the same thing with the Constitution. You hear people talk about the Constitution as a living document. They mean that it doesn't have to be interpreted any more in terms of the intent of the original author.

 

Well, tell me, when you get a love letter or a letter from the IRS, especially today, if you're a conservative Christian, or if you get a tax notice or a greeting card from someone, how do you understand it? You understand it literally. You don't understand it in a figurative, allegorical manner. You don't say, "Well, what do I want this to mean?" That means it may have meant something different yesterday than it means today. We don't do that in anything.

 

Isn't it interesting that we have an administration today where the only amendment from the Bill of Rights that they think has any value is the Fifth Amendment. They trampled the First Amendment. They want to destroy the Second Amendment. They don't care anything about the Fourth Amendment or the Tenth Amendment but they always claim the fifth because they trampled all over the other ones and that is not restricted to just Democrats. Trust me. There have been a lot of people over the years that have trampled over both ends of the spectrum because they don't want to take it literally.

 

See, we elect people to defend the Constitution. They think we elected them to change the Constitution. We don't hire a pastor to change the Bible but that's what happened in the late 19th century with the advent of 19th century liberal theology. It went back to the same kind of non-literal interpretation and it produced a pseudo-utopianism that gave birth to a bastard child of Nazism. There were a lot of other elements that figured into that but that's where the anti-Semitism came from. It had a long heritage in Western Europe and it was all built on a non-literal interpretation of the Bible. It bore its poisonous fruit in the Third Reich. 

 

What does the word hermeneutics mean? It's from the Greek word hermenuo which is based on the Greek deity, Hermes, who was the messenger or interpreter of the gods. The word basically meant to bring someone to an understanding of something, to explain something, to make it clear, to make it intelligibly. So hermeneutics refers to the science and art of interpreting the Bible. It is both a science because it follows certain precise principles that must always be followed and an art, because it takes time and skill to develop it. This is based on a quote from Milton Terry from an earlier generation of his classical work, "Biblical Hermeneutics".

 

Terry is good as far as he goes but he reached a point where he quit being literal. A lot of covenant theologians, once they get to unfulfilled prophecy interpret it in a non-literal manner although they interpret all of the prophecy that's been fulfilled in a literal manner. Jesus was going to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). He was going to be born of the lineage of David. They take all of that literally but as soon as it becomes unfulfilled prophecy they no longer understand it in a literal fashion. Milton Terry wrote in his classic textbook on hermeneutics that "Hermeneutics is both a science and an art. As a science it enunciates principles, investigates the laws of thought and language and classifies its facts and results as an art. It teaches what application these principles should have and establishes their soundness by showing their practical value in the elucidation of the more difficult Scriptures."

 

This means that as you interpret the Scripture it's not in isolation. It's got a surrounding context. That context has a surrounding context and even that has a surrounding context. The passage we're looking at in Romans 9 has a context of Romans 9–11 and is in the context of the epistle to Romans which is part of the Pauline epistles which is part of the New Testament, which is part of the Bible. So you don't interpret just in light of a verse. You don't just take out your scalpel and carve out two or three verses and try to understand them in isolation. Not only do you have the literary context of the Scripture but you also have its historical context, its cultural context, and all of those different aspects that are important. It concludes by saying "The hermeneutical art thus cultivates and establishes a valid exegetical procedure."

 

Okay, now this is all spelled out in a lot of different Bible study methods. Peter Lange, a German, in his commentary on Revelation writes about the different types of hermeneutics, literal or figurative. He says, "The literalist (so called)"…" The reason they sort of qualify this is because our opponents say we have just a wooden literalism, that we don't believe in figures of speech, we don't believe in metaphors or similes. We just have a very rigid literalism. But that isn't true. In other words if I tell you to go jump in the lake that doesn't mean I'm telling you to literally go jump into a body of water. I just want you to go away or leave or quit bothering me or something like that. It's an idiom. It's a figurative way of speaking that has a literal meaning. We know what it means. If I tell you to go jump in the lake, not one of you would go find a body of water and jump into it. See, that would be literal interpretation but that's not what we mean by literal interpretation.

 

Lange says, "The literalist is not one who denies that figurative language and symbols are used in prophecy. Nor does he deny the great spiritual truths are set forth therein. His position, simply, is that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted, that is, according to the received laws of language, as any other utterances are interpreted, that which is manifested so regarded. There are some passages of Scripture that utilize a tremendous amount of figurative speech."

 

Let me read one to you. This comes from the Song of Solomon, one of my favorite, favorite little descriptions. Now think how you would picture this. I one time had an artist draw this literally and I can't find it now. Picture this in a literal manner. This is Solomon speaking of the beauty of the Shulamite woman. "Behold you are fair, my love. Behold you are fair. You have dove's eyes behind your veil." Are we going to take that literally that she has literal dove's eyes? It's a literal veil. See we understand that in our language that this is a metaphor. He's comparing her eyes to the beauty of a dove's eyes. "Your hair is like a flock of goats going down from Mount Gilead." So there's a comparison there between her hair and a flock of goats. Is it comparing smell? Is it comparing color? Or is it comparing something that is flowing beautifully and gently down the slope? We know what it's comparing. We understand that. We're interpreting it literally but not woodenly. "Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep." Just imagine what that would look like if you took it literally.

 

Okay, see, this idea that we don't believe in metaphor or simile or idiom is just nonsense, it's not what goes on. Gordon Clark who's a well-known philosopher theologian, who has gone to be with the Lord, so he's now a dispensationalist, does make a very intelligent comment here. He says, "If God created man in His own rational image and endowed him with the power of speech…" Notice he goes back to the creator concept, that God initiated communication and language and then He creates that in man as a finite replica of who God is. "…and endowed him with the power of speech then the purpose of language, in fact the chief purpose of language, would naturally be the revelation of truth to man and the prayers of man to God." Language was originally created so that God could communicate information to man and man would communicate back to God. That's the purpose of language primarily. It doesn't mean there aren't other aspects to it but that's the primary aspect.

 

He says, "In a theistic philosophy one not ought to say that all language is devised in order to describe the finite objects of our sense experiences." In other words, language isn't there so we can talk about what we see in the created order. "On the contrary, language was devised by God, that is God created man rational for the purpose of theological expression." Now I've always wondered why people, even pastors, seem to avoid discussing theology. I always thought that if the primary or highest purpose for language was for us to just talk about God, then if you're with someone who doesn't ever like to talk about God or theology, then Houston, we've got a problem.

 

Now Floyd Hamilton is a well-known antagonist to dispensationalist. He's an amillennial covenant theologian and he writes about interpretation, just to show you the other side. He says, "Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of the earthly reign of the Messiah as the pre-millennialist pictures." My! If we use literal interpretation, of course we're going to end up with what they think but Hamilton goes on to say, "But that's wrong. That was the kind of Messianic Kingdom that the Jews at the time of Christ were looking for on the basis of a literal kingdom interpretation of the Old Testament prophecy." His subtext is that they were wrong and that literal interpretation about future things is wrong.

 

Another amillennialist, Verne Poythress, who wrote a really slanderous book against dispensationalist back in the 90s is a well-known theologian who teaches up at Westminster Theological Seminary but he needed a fact checker who would tear out every other paragraph because it is just filled with all kinds of falsehoods about what dispensationalists believe. He wrote, "I claim that there is a sound, solid grammatical full historical reason for interpreting eschatological fulfillments of prophecy on a different basis than pre-eschatological fulfillments". Now where do we find that in the Bible? Are we going to interpret unfulfilled prophecy in a different way than we interpret fulfilled prophecy? He continues, "It's therefore a move away from grammatical historical interpretation to insist that the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31) must with dogmatic certainty be interpreted in the most prosaic biological sense, a sense that an Israelite might be likely to apply as a rule of thumb in a short term prediction." In other words, what he's saying is that the House of Judah and the House of Israel just can't mean the House of Judah and House of Israel, That's just too common. Common as pig tracks, as some would say. But no! He's shifting the rules of the game in mid-game.

 

O.T. Alice, another well-known Westminster professor, covenant theologian, wrote numerous commentaries and attacks and slanders against dispensationalists in the early 20th century says, "One of the most marked features of pre-millennialism in all its forms is the emphasis on the literal interpretation of Scripture. It is the insistent claims of its advocates that only when interpreted literally is the Bible interpreted truly." Well, he's right. That's what we say. He goes on to say, "They denounce us as spiritualizers or allegorizers, those who do not interpret the Bible with the same degree of literalness as they do. None have made this point more pointedly than the dispensationalists. The Old Testament prophecies as literally interpreted cannot be regarded as being yet fulfilled or as being capable of being fulfilled in this present age." He goes on to say that he doesn't interpret it literally because we're in the kingdom now.

 

We'll stop there and next time we'll come back and see how a shift away from non-literal interpretation impacts how the church historically viewed Israel and that's the foundation for understanding this whole thing that's now called Replacement theology and how Replacement Theology is rearing its ugly head today in a new form called Christian Palestinianism. This is a counter-point to Christian Zionism. When I was in Israel I heard two advocates of Christian Palestinianism address us. It was interesting to listen to them but as one of my colleagues said, "We were patient to the point of where we were almost ready to commit murder." So one pastor sitting there did call them a liar to their face but we won't mention any names.