Basics for Interpreting the Book of Revelation

I didn’t grow up a Christian, but as soon as I began following Christ and attending a local church, I was almost immediately introduced to the Book of Revelation via the movie Left Behind. Like most Southern Baptist churches in the 90s, we talked a lot about the rapture, the Antichrist, the Tribulation, and miscellaneous details we could supposedly understand by decoding Revelation’s bizarre language and imagery.

Relatedly, I always remember being told I’d spend forever in Heaven, once I was raptured with Jesus and this world was destroyed. When I thought about Revelation, it was mostly wars, meteors, and desolation. Many of you can probably relate. I’m grateful, though, that I’ve been able to study Revelation for many years now, including as a major piece of my dissertation. In my experience, Revelation has been underplayed, under-appreciated, and simply misrepresented.

While there are many ways to approach interpreting Revelation, here are a few basics to consider first.

1. Revelation is not a book about destruction and fear.

Revelation certainly has its destructive elements—bowls of wrath poured out, beasts, the fall of Babylon, etc. However, these elements point to a greater hope, a hope found in God’s justice in his war against sin and death and evil. These sometimes terrifying elements of the book serve to show us that God is making all things new and redeeming the world fractured by the Fall (Rev. 21-22), not that he’s coming for us with a fireball in one hand and a lighting bolt in the other. Revelation has destruction within it, but it isn’t about that. It’s about our hope in the culmination of God’s promises.

2. Revelation is not about escaping Earth.

“This is not my home, I’m just passing through” is a sweet hymn, but it’s wrong. We don’t spend eternity in some far away place in the sky. Rather, we spend eternity right here, on this planet, the way God intended from the beginning (Gen. 1-2). This place is our home, though it’s certainly due for a major renovation. Sin didn’t cause a Plan B in God’s sovereign blueprint. He’s not abandoning his original plan for an Earth sprawling with image-bearers just because we messed things up; no, he will resurrect his people just like he resurrected his Son (1 Cor. 15). Heaven and Earth were joined together in the beginning, and they’ll come back together in the end (Rev. 21-22).

3. Revelation is not merely about future, end-times events.

This is probably the most misunderstood portion of Revelation. To be sure, it is an apocalypse in the sense that it deals with visions, prophecy, judgment and redemption, etc. However, we should remember that the book is also addressed to a specific audience in specific time (Rev. 1-3), and deals with issues that the original audience could understand and apply. It’s safe to say that Rev. 21-22 are about future events that haven’t happened yet, but the rest of the book is debatable. Likely, most of Revelation simultaneously applies both to its original audience and every generation afterward. Many of the allusions to Babylon, an antichrist, etc. can be applied to Rome and the Caesar the original audience knew, while also being representations or types for many generations of worldly kingdoms and rulers.

4. Revelation is not divorced from the rest of the Bible.

The numbers vary depending on who you ask, but most scholars say that Revelation has approximately 600 references or allusions to the Old Testament. In my study of Revelation, I’ve seen these allusions over and over again. Revelation’s author, John, never directly quotes the OT, but there are unmistakable allusions or hat-tips to the OT every few verses. John likely sees himself as a type of prophet, self-consciously telling the story of how Jesus finally fulfills all of the promises and expectations of the prophets, from Daniel to Isaiah to Zechariah to many others. Revelation is very much a capstone to the Bible’s unified storyline, not a freaky add-on to the end.

Book Review: Andrew Streett’s The Vine and the Son of Man

During ETS and SBL this year I was able to read through Andrew Streett’s welcome contribution to Fortress Press’ “Emerging Scholars” series, The Vine and the Son of Man: Eschatological Interpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism. Streett, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Redeemer Seminary in Texas, revised his dissertation (Univ. of Wales Trinity St. David) for this volume.

In the monograph Streett argues

(a) that Jewish and Christian interpreters found material in Psalm 80 pertaining to events at the end of the age, a time that some interpreters believed had already come upon them and their communities; and (b) that the meaning derived from Psalm 80 most often comes from the images of the vine (vv. 9-17) and the potentially messianic man (vv. 16b, 18), which because of the ambiguity of the text are open to a wide variety of interpretations (1).

The reader familiar with the Jewish and Christian Scriptures will recognize the potential fruitfulness of exploring the history of interpretation of Psalm 80, as it is alluded to in significant passages of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, as well as in Second Temple literature and Rabbinic Judaism. But, as Streett notes, the study of Psalm 80 and its use in later Jewish and Christian writings, and particularly a study of its eschatological interpretation, is relatively scant. Streett’s volume therefore fills a lacuna in the study of ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

The book is tightly organized, beginning with two chapters on Psalm 80 in its historical and literary contexts respectively. Over the course of the remainder of the work (chapters 3 – 7), Streett traces the use of Psalm 80 through various Hebrew Bible, Second Temple, and New Testament texts, including Daniel 7 and John 15:1-8. Streett is particularly keen to show how Psalm 80 came to be read messianically and then christologically, and how it is an exegetically feasible reading.

This type of book – one that traces the history of interpretation of a particular passage through its various stages- seems to me to be increasingly popular, and I think rightly so. While the outline of this book and others like it may appear relatively simple, the work done by Streett in this volume is important and useful on a number of levels. First, it sheds light on a comparatively understudied but still important passage in ancient Judaism and early Christianity, and one whose varied interpretations helps us to understand why Christianity ultimately departed from Judaism. The interpretation of Psalm 80, and particularly the Gospel authors’ reading of it as a reference to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, is one of the hermeneutical tipping points for early Christianity. Streett’s careful exegesis of the passage, coupled with his nuanced explanation of how ancient Jewish and early Christian writers read it differently, is of great assistance to scholars of these ancient texts and of the history of religion.

Second, Streett provides readers with what I consider to be a robust interpretive method. He describes it as “eclectic”, drawing on both historical and literary tools. On the latter, he is most interested in describing how Psalm 80 can be read canonically and intertextually (11). This type of reading, that situates a passage of Scripture while at the same time reading it as part of a larger whole, is one that I wholeheartedly commend.

Third, while Streett does not describe his project this way, in my mind it is helpful for Christians who wish to understand better the rationale of the New Testament writers as they used the Old Testament. The Vine and the Son of Man demonstrates that, while there are other interpretive options for the passage, early Christian messianic and christological interpretation of it fits well within the realm of possibilities when considering the intentions of the author of Psalm 80.

On that note, one question I continue to have after reading the book, and after re-reading the relevant passages to this question a number of times, is what Streett means by “meaning,” “intention,” and “intentionality.” A number of times Streett uses these terms to my mind in seemingly disparate ways, so that at one point they can refer to a (single?) intent of the original author – i.e. “what it meant” – while at others they seem to refer to what later readers understood it to mean, and at still other times they appear to refer to what the passage means in a canonical context. Perhaps Streett means all three, and maybe more, but it is still not clear to me exactly what he means by meaning or intention.

I would also hope to see a subsequent article or book on the interpretation of Psalm 80 not just in the New Testament but in early Christianity and perhaps even beyond. It seems to me that these types of projects would be bolstered by looking at the history of interpretation not only in the Christian canon and its background literature but also in subsequent Christian writings.

That question and small quibble aside, The Vine and the Son of Man is a carefully argued, methodologically robust, and therefore welcome addition to the study of the Hebrew Bible in subsequent literature. I would recommend it to those interested in a rigorous study of the Psalter, the history of interpretation, or early Christian origins and exegesis.


NOTE: I received this book in exchange for a fair and impartial review.


Doctrine and Interpretation

What is the relationship between doctrine and interpretation, specifically in terms of the former’s influence over the latter?

I’ve recently finished Scott Swain’s Trinity, Revelation, and Reading, and am currently reading Kevin Giles’ The Eternal Generation of the Son. Here are there answers:

Swain says,

Church dogma, we might say, is a sign of Christ’s victory through Word and Spirit within the common mind of the church. It is for this reason an ancient landmark that should not be moved.

To the extent, therefore, that the church’s dogmatic deliverances are indeed faithful summaries of the scope, shape, and substance of scriptural teaching, their use in interpretation does not constitute the imposition of an external burden or alien standard upon the interpreter of Holy Scripture. Church dogmas provide instead a divinely authorized interpretive key for unlocking the treasures of God’s word, a blessed pathway into Holy Scripture.

Giles similarly states,

What we must recognize is that there is no reading of Scripture apart from a communal understanding of it, apart from tradition. The question is not, do I accept that my communally held beliefs inform my exegesis or not – they unquestionably do – but, which communal beliefs will I prioritize? . . .the best tradition to inform our interpretation of Scripture is what the best of theologians across the centuries have taught, especially when it is codified in the creeds and confessions of our church.

What do you think? Do, and perhaps more importantly should, the three ecumenical creeds or the seven ecumenical councils have any bearing on our interpretation? What about more contemporary confessions?

Fumbling in the Dark

Yesterday I tweeted the following:

Many times when I read essays tied to the historical-critical method, it sounds like grasping for hope after the world’s gone dark. The irony is, the ones using the historical-critical method turned off the lights on themselves by capitulating to modernity.

I’ve been asked to clarify this statement, so let me give it a shot.

First, by “historical-critical method” I mean the approach to biblical interpretation that is “. . . thought of as the standard way of studying the Bible objectively,”[1]  and that “. . . ‘factually’ divides science from speculation or primitivism.”[2] It typically utilizes such tools as redaction criticism, source criticism,  tradition criticism, and the like. It’s goal, as can be seen in the quotes above, is to provide a “scientifically objective” means of interpretation so that the subjective faith element cannot become a factor in the hermeneutical process. Of course, postmodern/post-liberal/post-conservative/post-whatever biblical scholars have heavily critiqued this latter aim of the method, but they continue to utilize the tools proffered by modernity.

When I read those who capitulate to this approach, even those who deny the ability of the interpreter to be “objective” in their use of the historical-critical tools, I often find that, after the text has been cut to pieces, the interpreter is left grasping for straws as to what the text actually means. This is especially true of what it means for those who read the Bible today. So, for instance, I recently came across an article on 2 Peter 3:1–13 that argued that we should no longer preach from this text because it so clearly communicates cosmic annihilation, perhaps derived from a Stoic view of the world. Here, 2 Peter 3 is not “the Word of God for the people of God,” even though this scholar was explicitly arguing from a liturgically oriented standpoint; instead, it is something to be discarded for its discord with the rest of the NT’s more environmentally friendly teaching. This conclusion was reached partly by using source criticism. Or, in another instance, I read an essay on Song of Solomon that explicitly utilized historical-critical methods and assumptions and asked, given this method and these assumptions, what can we do with this book? The answer, after only a few pages, was, not much. We can’t say that it’s about Christ and the church under the historical-critical method, but we don’t want to say it’s just a sex manual. But what else is there to say? Again, the author didn’t really provide an answer.

This, to me, is fumbling in the dark after you turned the lights off on yourself. The assumptions and philosophical foundations of the historical-critical method effectively neuter the Bible of any Christological or spiritual message. The closed universe of modernity cuts off the supernatural. The Enlightenment rejection of the past and of tradition, in favor of my own autonomous authority, circumcises any connection I once had with previous interpretive communities. The belief that “objective” tools can be used like a sausage grinder means that the text becomes a dismembered, disjointed, bloody mess after we are done cutting it into bits in our hermeneutical machine. There is no sense of the inspiration of the Spirit, the Christological focus, or the transforming power of the text. There’s only a mess of hot dogs, and not the “100% beef” kind either. There remains some sense, because of the tradition that won’t let us go even though we’ve kicked it to the curb, that the text ought to say something to us. But it can’t and it won’t, not because of its own inability or desire, but because we’ve asked the judge for adolescent emancipation from it.

The historical-critical method asks us to deny the supernatural inspiration of the Bible and therefore to deny its textual and Christological unity. What else are we left with after that but fumbling in the dark?


[1] Craig Bartholomew, “Uncharted Waters: Philosophy, Theology, and the Crisis in Biblical Interpretation,” pages 1 – 39 in Renewing Biblical Interpretation (SHS 1; eds., Craig Bartholomew, Colin Greene, and Karl Möller; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 4. I cannot recommend this essay more highly.

[2] Gerhard Meier, Biblical Hermeneutics (trans., Robert W. Yarbrough; Wheaton: Crossway, 1994), 249.

Pneumatological Method

The second foundational aspect of a Christian approach to Scripture is that method ought to be pneumatological in character. That is, it should be driven and empowered by the Holy Spirit. From the first post:

This means it will recognize the role of the Spirit in both inspiration and interpretation, and will note the Spirit-generated ecclesial context (both historically and contemporaneously) in which interpretation occurs. It also recognizes both the contextual and presuppositional nature of all interpretation and the Spirit’s ability to confront our context and presuppositions.

Although an emphasis on the Christocentric nature of Scripture is sometimes controversial in the field of hermeneutics, I think this aspect of a Christian theological method hits against many of our interpretive presupposition. We as 21st century interpreters have, in my opinion, been pre-conditioned to focus on an “objective” reading of the biblical material that privileges the human author over the divine, even to the point where the divine author is ignored or consciously set aside. What I am calling a pneumatological method pushes against this entire stance towards biblical interpretation.

First, a pneumatological method recognizes both the divine and human authorship of Scripture. In my articulation of this foundation, I would further say that the divine author holds the privileged position in terms of whose intent we are seeking to understand. This does not mean the human author’s intent is no longer important; on the contrary, genre, literary devices, and historical background – all facets related most directly to the human author – each still play an important role in interpreting the text. The divine author, the Holy Spirit, though, has the privileged position. Connections between different passages, the intent of the passage, and especially the Christocentric nature of individual sections are all ultimately tied to divine intent. Again, the human author can and does make intertextual connections and point to Christ, but recognizing the Spirit’s superintending authorship of Scripture allows us to more boldly recognize these intertextual and Christological connections.

Second, a pneumatological method recognizes that the context of interpretation is the church. Often in modern exegesis the exercise is isolated and individualistic. The Spirit, though, has birthed the interpretive community in its work of regeneration, and it is in this Spirit-born and Spirit-led community that a properly Spirit-illuminated interpretation can and should take place. We should further say that this community transcends time and space, and so a properly pneumatological method will recognize that the Spirit has guided interpreters in different parts of the world and in different times than our own. The tradition and global nature of the church can help us in the third facet of a pneumatological method – confronting our own preconceptions.

Finally, a pneumatological method recognizes that it is the Spirit-inspired text that should master the interpreter and not the other way around. We cannot simply put the text through our hermeneutics machine and expect to grind out objective interpretations like some kind of Bible sausage. God confronts us through his Word, and a Spirit-led interpretation will recognize the confrontational and transformational nature of Scripture. The goal of God’s revelation is to point to Jesus, not only to help us understand propositions about God but so that through understanding God we might be changed into the image of his Son (2 Cor. 3:17-18). A theological method that does not recognize that the text is meant to transform us is not reading Scripture as it is intended to be read. To say it in contemporary terms, the text ought to apply to us. The Spirit does this through the text on its own, by the way – we don’t have to “find the application.” Additionally, understanding that the text confronts us helps us to own up to our own cultural presuppositions. Everyone comes to the text with baggage, and we should expect for that baggage – presuppositions – to be confronted in the text by the Spirit.

Christocentric Method

Last week I posted on theological method and outlined five foundations for Christian interpretation of the Bible. In the next week (or weeks depending on how busy I get), I hope to expand on each of those five in separate posts. Today I’ll expand on the first, which is that,

A Christian theological method ought to be Christocentric, but within a properly Trinitarian framework. That is, it recognizes that God the Father reveals himself to his people in God the Son and by God the Spirit.

When Christians say that God has given us revelation, we mean that God has communicated to us who he is through certain means. God has “at many times and many ways” spoken to us  (Heb. 1:1 – here namely through the OT prophets). These ways include general revelation, through which we can see that God is eternal and all powerful (Rom. 1:20); special revelation of himself in history, such as the burning bush episode (Exodus 3); special revelation of himself particularly in the incarnation (John 1:14; Heb. 1:2); and special revelation of himself through Scripture (2 Tim. 3:14-17).

Of these many ways of revealing himself, we should say first that general revelation does not communicate all that is needed for salvation or about God, but only that he exists and is powerful. Only special revelation communicates what is sufficient for faith. Of the three means of special revelation, only one of those is still accessible to the people of God – Scripture. Although Christians commune with the risen Christ through the power and indwelling of the Spirit, we cannot see, touch, hear, taste, or smell the incarnate Jesus (and the latter two would be weird anyway). In other words, there were only 30ish years when people on the earth could interact with the person of Jesus on a material/bodily level. Scripture is what the people of God are given, both before and after Christ, in order to know God and who he is.

The second and more fundamental truth we need to understand about revelation is that it is always Christocentric. That is, God the Father is known and perceived and understood by his creatures through seeing God the Son in the power of God the Spirit. God the Father “dwells in unapproachable light” and “no one has ever seen or can see” him. God the Son, though, is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), and the one who allows us to see the Father through seeing him (John 12:45; 14:9). To know, see, and understand God, then, is accomplished through knowing, seeing, and understanding the Son.

This puts a Christocentric reading on a Trinitarian path, but that Trinitarian nature of revelation is made even more clear through understanding the role of the Spirit. The Spirit’s role is to testify to the Son, both through convicting unbelievers of sin and to guide believers into all truth about the Son (John 16:4-15). In all things he glorifies the Son (John 16:14-15). To summarize, then, God the Spirit testifies to God the Son who makes God the Father known to his people.

This makes the call to a Christological reading of Scripture, including the ones by Jesus (John 5:46; Luke 24:27, 44, etc.) all the more intelligible. We as Christians confess that “the holy writings are able to make you wise unto salvation in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:14-15; notice he’s referring to the OT here and Christ) because it is through Christ’s death and resurrection and indeed his entire person and work that we can gain access to God the Father. To know God the Father is accomplished by knowing God the Son, to whom the Spirit testifies in Scripture. Thus special revelation, and particularly the form to which Christians now have access, holy Scripture, is Christocentric because God is made known by his Spirit through Christ.

Additionally, general revelation is also Christocentric, as the cosmos is patterned after divine Wisdom (Prov. 8:22-31), the Logos, who is also the one by, through, and to which creation is made (Col. 1:16-18). Thus to say that “only some verses talk about the person of Jesus” is to miss the point of Christian Scripture. The nature of revelation is such that all Scripture speaks of Christ, because it is the inspiring Spirit’s job to make it so, since it is through the Son that we know the Father.

One final note: this claim of Christocentrism is not Christomonic; rather, as noted above, it is Trinitarian. Further, I am not here claiming that every verse of the entire Bible is prophetically pointing forwards or mimetically pointing backwards to specific events in the life of Christ. In other words, I’m not arguing for bad allegory, where we make every detail of a narrative mirror the events of Christ’s life. I am saying, however, that the message of every book in the Bible, both individually and collectively, is ultimately about Christ.

The Bible is About Jesus

The entire Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, is about Jesus Christ.

Let me give a few reasons why I believe that is the case, as well as a few clarifications about what that means.

First, reasons:

  1. I suppose #1 ought to be the fact that Jesus says on numerous occasions that the Old Testament is about him. Below are a few examples:
    1. John 5:46 – “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.”
    2. Luke 24:27 – “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
    3. Luke 24:44-48 – “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
    4. I am not saying here that literally every single verse of Scripture is about Jesus, nor do I think Jesus is, but more on that in the clarifications section.
  2. If the entire OT doesn’t point to Christ, then why should Christians read it? What makes our reading any different from a Jewish reading? This probably should be a guiding question in how we discuss what the Old Testament is about. At the end of the day, if we can stand up on a Sunday morning and preach a sermon from the OT that would sound exactly the same as a message from a motivational speaker, then we need to ask ourselves if it is a truly Christian message. And the fundamental distinction between the Christian message and all other messages is that we believe Jesus is Lord through his righteous life, atoning death, death-shattering resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and one day through his return and that the work of Christ has application for believers. If Christ’s person and work is not central to our message, and indeed to our Scriptures, what is the difference?
  3. The entire Bible points to Christ because it is the Spirit’s job to testify to the Son so that through the Son we might see the Father. The assertion that the Bible is about Christ is a Trinitarian one, not a Christomonic one. The reason why the Bible is about Christ is because it is through Christ that we know the Father. The Spirit inspires the written Word to reveal the Incarnate Word so that through him we might know the Father.
  4. 2 Tim. 3:14-15 clearly indicates that the Old Testament was able to make Timothy wise unto salvation in Christ. This is but one example in the entire New Testament where the authors of the epistles indicate that the Old Testament is a treasure trove of doctrine (not just Christology proper but also soteriology, hamartiology, etc.), doctrine that ultimately leads to Christ and salvation in him.
  5. A related point to the previous sentence is that theology finds its hub in Christ. Again, this is not to be Christomonic, but simply to note that if we are talking about human beings, our image is summed up in Christ. If we are talking about sin, it is dealt with in Christ. If we are talking about the Spirit, his job is to testify to Christ and apply his work to our hearts. If we are talking about the church, we are his body, bought with his blood. If we are talking about eschatology, from an Old Testament perspective we’re looking for Christ’s first coming and from a New Testament perspective we’re looking for his second coming.

Now for some clarifications:

  1. I am NOT saying that literally every verse in the Old Testament points to Christ. But that is also, in my mind, the incorrect way to phrase the issue. When the OT writers wrote their books, they were not splitting their work up into verses but instead viewed their book as an integrated whole with a unifying message. Further, they viewed their book as integrally related to whatever other parts of the OT were written at the time. They connected their books to previous Scripture and also connected the different parts of their own book(s) together. Both of these types of connections are textual – the authors of Scripture quoted, alluded to, and echoed previous Scripture to connect the message of their book with the message of the entire Bible. This means that even if one particular verse does not have much to say about Christ, it is still connected narratively and textually to the rest of the book and the entire Bible, which IS about Christ.
  2. Some would object and say that there are points at which the human author of a book may not have intended for the passage to be as Christocentric/eschatological as we are reading it. Two things here:
    1. Per the previous point, the writers of Scripture ALWAYS connect the smaller parts to the larger whole, and thus if we pay attention to the literary context of the particular passage, we recognize that context as eschatological and Christocentric.
    2. The ultimate author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, and he knows exactly why he’s inspiring the human author. Again, his job is to point to Christ, and so we should expect that he does so. Everywhere.
  3. Finally, a Christocentric reading of Scripture does not preclude an emphasis on application. To the contrary, reading the Bible Christocentrically actually gives us proper grounding for application. For it is through knowing, seeing, and savoring Christ that we can properly respond to (apply) the Word of God to our lives. When we divorce application from intent, we’ve missed the intent of the Bible – to transform us into the image of Christ. And it is by seeing Christ that we are transformed into his image (2 Cor. 3:17-18). So for the Bible to be properly applicable it must be Christocentric.

The Cohesion of the Biblical Witness: Inner-Biblical Use of Scripture–Mark Boda

I’ve been reading through Hearing the Old Testament edited by Bartholomew and Beldman. I thought this quote from Mark Boda was worth passing along.

This hermeneutical agenda for biblical theology, which arises from the self-witness of Scripture, explains the ubiquitous interconnections between the various parts of the canon. The Old Testament canon itself displays inner cohesion through the regular use of quotations, allusions, and echoes of earlier Old Testament passages. This trend, which is observable in the Old Testament, only increases in the New Testament. It is important to take a closer look at this phenomenon of inner-biblical connectivity by looking at the ways the New Testament writers used the Old Testament and the ways Old Testament writers used other parts of the Old Testament. The biblical witness itself lays the foundation hermeneutically for Christian biblical theologians to follow as they seek to read the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

Mark J. Boda (“Biblical Theology and Old Testament Interpretation” in Hearing the Old Testament, ed. Craig Bartholomew and Dave Beldman, Eerdmans, 2012). 135

2 Peter 1:19–The Prophetic Word more fully Confirmed?

A couple of weeks ago I was reading 2 Peter 1:16-21 from the NET translation. I appreciate the footnotes that accompany the translation because of the translator’s reasoning towards a translation. I hope that more translations in the future will follow suit and show its readers the issues in translation. I was particularly curious about the NET’s translation of 2 Peter 1:19a:

1:19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing.

This sparked my interest because of how some major translations have rendered this verse:

English Standard Version: And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed

New American Standard 1995: So we have the prophetic word made more sure

New International Version: And we have the word of the prophets made more certain

The NET footnote for 1:19a reads:

The comparative adjective βεβαιότερον is the complement to the object τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον. As such, the construction almost surely has the force “The prophetic word is (more certain/altogether certain) – and this is something that we all have.” Many scholars prefer to read the construction as saying “we have the prophetic word made more sure,” but such a nuance is unparalleled in object-complement constructions (when the construction has this force, ποιέω is present [as in 2 Pet 1:10]). The meaning, as construed in the translation, is that the Bible (in this case, the OT) that these believers had in their hands was a thoroughly reliable guide. Whether it was more certain than was even Peter’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration depends on whether the adjective should be taken as a true comparative (“more certain”) or as an elative (“very certain, altogether certain”). Some would categorically object to any experience functioning as a confirmation of the scriptures and hence would tend to give the adjective a comparative force. Yet the author labors to show that his gospel is trustworthy precisely because he was an eyewitness of this great event. Further, to say that the OT scriptures (the most likely meaning of “the prophetic word”) were more trustworthy an authority than an apostle’s own experience of Christ is both to misconstrue how prophecy took place in the OT (did not the prophets have visions or other experiences?) and to deny the final revelation of God in Christ (cf. Heb 1:2). In sum, since syntactically the meaning that “we have confirmed the prophetic word by our experience” is improbable, and since contextually the meaning that “we have something that is a more reliable authority than experience, namely, the Bible” is unlikely, we are left with the meaning “we have a very reliable authority, the Old Testament, as a witness to Christ’s return.” No comparison is thus explicitly made. This fits both the context and normal syntax quite well. The introductory καί    suggests that the author is adding to his argument. He makes the statement that Christ will return, and backs it up with two points: (1) Peter himself (as well as the other apostles) was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration, which is a precursor to the Parousia; and (2) the Gentile believers, who were not on the Mount of Transfiguration, nevertheless have the Old Testament, a wholly reliable authority that also promises the return of Christ.

I see a couple of things in play here worth noting: 1) is the actual syntax of the verse. What is actually possible in the construction. 2) contextual–what makes the most sense of the overall context of the letter. 3) theological–understanding the relationship between revelation as events and revelation of a text. I could be wrong here.

There are many things I pretend to be, but a Greek scholar is not one of them. I’m interested to see what others have to say. How would you translate καὶ ἔχομεν βεβαιότερον τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον? Why?

Hermeneutical Foundations

First… I’m a horrible blogger. I know. This happens every time I try to start blogging. Some major event completely derails my futile attempts to maintain a steady writing pace. In this case, it was moving cross-country from NC to CA to start teaching at CBU; a magnanimous and happy event in my life, but one that nonetheless has prevented me from blogging here.

Ok now that my necessary confession is over… I’ve been thinking about hermeneutics (shocker).

I’m teaching Biblical Interpretation right now, and it’s been great fun watching the students interact with biblical material and challenging them to think well about hermeneutics. In the process of teaching the class, we’ve run into a number of issues in current hermeneutical studies, including the role of the canon, the locus of meaning, and just method in general.

Obviously, these debates aren’t just happening in the classroom; they are happening in evangelicalism at large. And it seems to me that the debate over proper hermeneutics is what is defining evangelicalism in the 21st century. Now, some may object with the fact that it appears that the relationship between science and faith is what is defining evangelicalism, or perhaps how the church handles social issues. But aren’t these issues fundamentally rooted in hermeneutics? How we understand the nature of story in the Bible underscores how we articulate the relationship between Genesis 1-3 (or is it 1-11 now?) and the origin of the earth. How we understand the ethical commands as well as the nature of humanity articulated in the Bible is a matter of hermeneutics, and influences where we stand on social issues.

The point is, hermeneutical method underpins most of the dialogue and debates happening in evangelicalism today. That being said, as I look through all the books I’ve ordered but not yet read ( 🙂 ) I’ve noticed a few distinct areas of hermeneutics that seem to be particular fertile ground for dialogue and debate. These include the role, function, and purpose in hermeneutics of:

  • Narrative
  •  Canon
  • Tradition
  • History of Interpretation (both methods and conclusions)
  • Doctrine

Do you agree that hermeneutics is the foundational issue in many other issues today in evangelicalism? Would you add anything else to that list of current issues in hermeneutics?