Events, Texts, Interpretations…

The most difficult thing that I have had to grapple with lately is this issue of “differences” in the gospel accounts. How are we to approach these “differences”? How do they effect our understanding of what Scripture is, as well as how we are to interpret Scripture?

The Gospels are records of historical events. But were they intended to be the records of an “Ideal Chronicler”, a person who records for us everything perfectly just as they happened down to the smallest detail, AS THE EVENTS WERE TAKING PLACE? This kind of record would be but a bare skeleton of a record, only recording the “brute facts.” Jesus went to Galilee. He performed a Miracle. People tried to kill him. Then he went to Capernaum… etc, etc. The Gospels do record events. But the beauty of the gospels is that the events that are recorded were written down in a text after the event had happened, and after a whole lot of other stuff had happened.

These events that take place in space time history CHANGE IN MEANING as time goes on, and as the interpreters of the text in which the events were recorded, learn more about the significance of that event.

Jesus was crucified. This was a historical event. But by itself it is a brute fact, with no meaning attached to it. Only when we understand the story of redemption as previously laid out for us in Scripture do we begin to understand the significance of the event of Jesus’ crucifixion. The event stays the same, but the meaning of the event changes with time.

The meaning of the event also changes because of the purposes of the story teller. Interpretation is ALWAYS a part of texts. The Gospels are recorded interpretations of historical events. Inspired, Infallible, Inerrant, interpretations of historical events. The gospels do not give us just brute facts, but built into the text of Scripture, are interpretations, as well as literary creations, which in and of themselves, help shape the meaning of the text, and the events that the text is interpreting.

The more we learn about the text of Scripture, i.e. the gospels, the more we learn about the evangelist’s interpretations of the events of Jesus.

Now, is the Holy Spirit allowed to record for us 4 different accounts of historical events, and give us 4 different interpretations of those events in order that we might understand the significance and meaning of the historical events more deeply and more thoroughly?

I think that this is what the debate is about.

All we have is access to texts, not to the “in space time history” events. Our main task is not to try to “get behind the text” and find the “real Jesus”, but rather, look to the text, in all its variations, and find the Jesus that the Holy Spirit presents to us. It is this Jesus, the Jesus that is revealed in the Text of Holy Scripture, that God wants us to know.

Jesus is the exegesis of the Father. But Scripture is the Divinely Inspired interpretation of that exegesis. It is our duty and responsibility to interpret the Interpretation, and to exegete the Interpretation, in order that we might come to an interpretation which is closer and closer to God’s interpretation.

Technically this is an impossible task, since Holy Writ is inexhaustible, but it is a task that God saw fit to give to us. May we do it for His glory, and the good of the Church.

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John Owen, The Preterist

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”        ~2 Peter 3:10-13 ESV

John Owen provides a very interesting read of this passage, one that has been largely neglected since his day, but by the grace of God is becoming more of the predominant view, and is being understood as the truth of Scripture in many places, especially here at cross+words.

Here is just a brief portion of a sermon in which Owen postulated that the New Heavens and New Earth are essentially the New Covenant.

1. It is certain, that what the apostle intends by the “world,” with its heavens and earth, verses 5, 6, which was destroyed by water; the same, or somewhat of that kind, he intends by “the heavens and the earth” that were to be consumed and destroyed by fire, verse 7. Otherwise there would be no coherence in the apostle’s discourse, nor any kind of argument, but a mere fallacy of words.

2. It is certain, that by the flood, the world, or the fabric of heaven and earth, was not destroyed, but only the inhabitants of the world; and therefore the destruction intimated to succeed by fire, is not of the substance of the heavens and the earth, which shall not be consumed until the last day, but of persons or men living in the world.

3. Then we must consider in what sense men living in the world are said to be the “world,” and the “heavens and earth” of it. I shall 134only insist on one instance to this purpose, among many that may be produced, Isa. li. 15, 16. The time when the work here mentioned, of planting the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth, was performed by God, was when he “divided the sea,” verse 15, and gave the law, verse 16, and said to Zion, “Thou art my people;” — that is, when he took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a church and state.

Then he planted the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth, — made the new world; that is, brought forth order, and government, and beauty, from the confusion wherein before they were. This is the planting of the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth in the world. And hence it is, that when mention is made of the destruction of a state and government, it is in that language that seems to set forth the end of the world. So Isa. xxxiv. 4; which is yet but the destruction of the state of Edom. The like also is affirmed of the Roman empire, Rev. vi. 14; which the Jews constantly affirm to be intended by Edom in the prophets. And in our Saviour Christ’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, Matt. xxiv., he sets it out by expressions of the same importance. It is evident, then, that, in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by “heavens” and “earth,” the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, are often understood. So were the heavens and earth that world which then was destroyed by the flood.

4. On this foundation I affirm, that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state; for which I shall offer these two reasons, of many that might be insisted on from the text:—

(1.) Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews; — some of them believing, others opposing the faith. Now, there was no particular concernment of that generation in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread for the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation; and, besides, an ample testimony, both to the one and the other, of the power and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ; — which was the thing in question between them.

(2.) Peter tells them, that, after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of, verse 13, “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth,” etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isa. lxv. 17. Now, when shall this be that God will create these “new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness?” Saith Peter, “It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell.” But now it is evident, from this place of Isaiah, with chap. lxvi. 21, 22, that this is a prophecy of gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances, to endure for ever. The same thing is so expressed, Heb. xii. 26–28.

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This sermon can found here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/owen/sermons.iv.xiii.html.  Have fun!!!!

You can also see a series of videos featuring Kenneth Gentry about a Preteristic interpretation of Revelation at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjOThGeEnyc&feature=related