Monday, September 29, 2014

The Bible Interprets the Bible?

There are certain phrases that are meant to put us at ease by some Bible teachers, and disarm us from being too critical of a particular interpretation in terms of how faithful it is. Some phrases exist to sneak in ideas that ultimately reject the teaching of the Bible while at the same time explicitly affirming a faithfulness to what the Bible teaches. Let's talk about one of these today.

The phrase, "the Bible interprets the Bible" is something I hear quite a bit these days, and like most bumper sticker theology, it's an idea that is widely misunderstood. What most people think this means is that we just harmonize all texts together, as though the entire Bible is the context for a particular word or phrase. But that, in my estimation, skips a vital step in being linguistically responsible with language and letting context speak for itself.

The canon certainly is the context of the books therein, but the immediate contexts have to be considered first and then branched out from there. Otherwise, one can, and often does, replace the actual context of something that is said with a foreign context, making it say something completely different than what was intended by the individual author of that particular book in the Bible.

Context is king when understood to grow out from the smaller contexts to the larger. So, for instance, I understand that John uses the word pneuma in John 3:8 in two different ways, precisely, because I start at the micro-context before placing it within its macro-context of the entire canon, or even the Gospel of John as a whole. At the clausal and paragraph level, I can see that one use of pneuma refers to the Spirit of God/Holy Spirit, and the other refers to the wind. The other words that form its context in the sentence (e.g., blows, hear the sound, where it comes from, where it goes, etc.) informs the reader that literal wind is in view. But the larger subject at the paragraph level informs the reader that the other use of pneuma here speaks of the Holy Spirit who causes a spiritual rebirth by which men who are now born of Him speak and conduct their lives.

Indeed, this then connects to the larger theology of John in his Gospel that teaches us about the necessity of the regeneration of the Spirit and that such cannot be seen physically, since true worshipers are those who worship God through the Spirit and truth, rather than through their physical ethnicity.

We can then apply this teaching to the larger teaching concerning the Holy Spirit and regeneration throughout the Bible as its larger context that shows us the Word and witness of those born of Him.

But what if I looked at all of the texts that deal with wind in the Bible and concluded that these must be the immediate context for the word pneuma? I would see that the word is often used for the wind of God that looks much like a storm. I would have to conclude that this refers to a storm, and that this is really talking about being born from the storms of life, which are trials. Now I just turned what was a theology of unconditional election and the regenerating (monergistic) work of the Holy Spirit into a works-based reward system for those who persevere through trials in life and yet still obey God.

This is what happens when one ignores how language works. The "Bible interprets the Bible" credo does not mean one rips two passages out of context, strings them together to provide a totally new context for each, and suddenly we get what God meant by all of it. What it does mean is that we interpret each text within its own context, then look at the larger section of the book, then the larger book, then the group of books by that author, then other books of that genre, then section of the canon, then the canon, all passages being taken within their own contexts first and then brought together to complement and often restrict our thinking concerning the subject matter.

That takes language seriously, and we ought to take it seriously because God used it to communicate to us His truth.

You can do this with anything, and people often do. Cults do this all the time. Try and get a JW to stay on one passage at a time. Good luck. If he does that, he loses the debate. By ignoring the immediate context one can make a passage say anything by using other Bible verses as their context, and so cults love doing this because they can support whatever heretical theology they desire by such a faulty methodology. Liberals go the other way and never bring the actual teachings of the passages and books together--this largely due to their presuppositions concerning what the Bible is as a human book about God rather than a divine book written through humans. But this does not justify a sloppy reading where we mesh everything together while ignoring the actual context in which it is said.

Try this with the word "world" in John's writings. By the end of it, one will have God loving the wicked practices and thinking that is hostile to Him. Try it with the word "flesh" in Paul's writings. By the end of that reading, one will have to conclude that Paul lives in the flesh by faith in the Son of God, which he tells us that those who live in the flesh must die and do not know Christ.

Absurdities are multiplied when we ignore how language works. In fact, I would change the phrase completely. The Bible does not interpret the Bible. An interpreter interprets the Bible using either a good or bad methodology of understanding the language used in context, along with understanding what contexts need to be considered primary. But the Bible does not interpret individual passages or books for us. The Bible teaches us the whole counsel of God on a subject and it does so by teaching us individual elements of that subject in every context first. It teaches us a larger theology and ethic through the books that then can be put together in a display of the continuity it has with itself. But one part of the Bible does not interpret another part. The immediate context of the passage and book provides what is needed for interpretation. The Bible supplies the missing elements of the whole counsel of God that an individual passage or book does not possess within itself, and so must be joined to the rest in order to fill out the bigger picture.

So no more of this sloppy prooftexting, where one runs around the Bible when a context doesn't provide the interpretation he wants. It is simply another way of rejecting the Bible, even while explicitly affirming one's faith in it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Is Preterism Heresy?

There are many ways to answer that question: biblically, theologically, historically, and socially. I'll attempt to come at it at every angle mentioned above in reverse order.

1. Socially we must speak of "heresy" as division, since that is really from whence the term comes. Preterism certainly has caused major divisions in its aggressiveness to undermine all other eschatological systems. In this way, it seems as though it cannot tolerate other systems well, and indeed, must continually assert itself over more important matters of faith. Indeed, it seems to become a core doctrine of the faith for many Preterists as it consumes much of their time and energy. Often, Preterists would rather end whole churches than cease and desist from making it an issue. For this reason, it can be a social heresy (but, of course, many things can be in this sense).

2. Historically, all eschatological positions are in line with what Christians have declared in the creeds. All except one that is: Preterism. Because of its denial of the Second Coming of Christ in the flesh, the bodily resurrection (i.e., that this earthly body will be redeemed and transformed), the future judgment, etc., it sets itself up against the creeds and what "all Christians everywhere" have believed within the historic orthodox Christian Church. It flies in the face, in fact, of the early Apostle's Creed upon which almost all subsequent creeds are based. For this reason, it is a historical heresy.

3. Theologically, Preterism undermines core doctrines of the Christian faith that have to do with the nature of man and sometimes even that of Christ. It must posit the gnostic idea that man is merely a spirit clothed in flesh rather than an inspirited physical creature made up of body and spirit intermingled. This distorts all humans, what is saved by Christ, and Christ's nature as well, since Christ's body would merely be a shell as well, and not make up a major element of who He is (i.e., a denial of His human nature in terms of what makes up the human nature). It also denies what the gospel accomplishes (what Christ gains for Himself is gained for us, but what is not gained for Himself cannot be obtained by us, i.e., a different body or a state of existence as spirits). There is simply a profound misunderstanding of the gospel in Preterism. One might say that Preterism only denies these by a logical entailment that is only sometimes, but not always, pursued to the fullest by Preterists; but this would merely be walking the line much like other heretical views that are rejected by the church more for what they imply than what is explicitly affirmed. For this reason, Preterism is a theological heresy.

Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, we come to whether it is a biblical heresy. Apart from what can be inferred from above, there are two key passages that may help us answer this question.

The first is a commonly discussed passage by both sides:

2 Timothy 2:16-19:

But stand clear of godless foolish talk, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, [men] who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness."

Some observations here:

a. Paul calls this ungodly and cancer.
b. He states that those who teach this have gone astray from the truth.
c. He seems to suggest that those who teach this do not belong to God in contrast to those who are known by the Lord.

Now, what is this teaching that states the resurrection had already occurred?

Preterists like to argue that this proves that the resurrection must have been seen as a spiritual event, since the heretics are able to argue this way and convince people that it had already taken place.
Whereas this is an interesting deflection, what seems to escape their notice is that the more likely interpretation in a proto-gnostic context is that these heretics were spiritualizing the physical resurrection and arguing that it had already taken place. This follows the pattern of those who deny that Jesus is coming in the flesh, which brings me to the other passage that is not so well discussed.

2 John 1:7:

Many translations simply get this text wrong, and thus, it is widely unknown to most Preterists. The assumption seems to be that John is talking about the same thing he was talking about in 1 John, i.e., that Jesus had come in the flesh (i.e., physically as opposed to spiritually in the way the Docetic Gnostics argued).
However, one must remember that these letters don't provide the context for one another, as they are different written works. They may provide some context to the author's overall thinking, but they need to be read as distinct works first.
This brings us to an important point. In 1 John, John uses the Perfect or Aorist to refer to Christ's incarnation and earthly ministry, never the Present.
In this verse, however, John uses the Present Participle ἐρχόμενον. In a colossal mistake, most translations translate them the same, likely due to confusing the phrase with the Perfect Participle in 1 John 4:2 and 5:6, but in fact, they are not the same. The Present Participle is used to refer to Christ's Coming in the Synoptics, i.e., "is coming" (Matt 16:28; 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27).
Hence, in the Greek, the text reads:

  For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.  Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into [your] house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

Notice, the one who denies that Christ is coming in the flesh is a deceiver and antichrist, one who will not receive a full reward, and who does not have God. He is not to be received into the church or even greeted. So whatever this is, it is an example of heresy, and it has to do with not confessing that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh.

To bring back a statement from 1 John, "when He appears we will be like Him," Christ must actually appear (a word that describes one making oneself physically visible) in order for us to be made like Him (and as I argued before, this refers to our physical bodies).

Hence, it is probable that John is saying that a failure to confess that Jesus is coming in the flesh/physically, and to argue that He returns spiritually in some way, not merely in micro-events that foreshadow the macro, but as the only macro event itself, is to be of the deceiver and antichrist (i.e., replacing Christ and His work with another christ and another work). For this reason, Preterism is a biblical heresy.

The issue at this point becomes one where we discuss how we deal with individuals who have fallen into this, or any, heresy in love. A thorough effort to teach the teachable should be made with blood, sweat, and tears. Lots of prayer for the individuals and lots of conversations to make sure that they are not simply deceived sheep who need to be led to less polluted waters. Love for God, the purity of His flock, and then the individuals who have gone astray should  be our motivating influence in that order.

The charge of heresy also should not replace a thoughtful dialogue in seeking this reconciliation, as many have sought to use it as an ad hominem rather than engage in serious conversation.

However, once it is evident that they are dug in and not going to be teachable anymore, it is then that John's instruction becomes relevant, and we, sadly, must move on from them and withdraw the hand of fellowship, as the Apostle commands.

On the Resurrection, PART VI

I wanted to address what is probably a more popular Preterist view that interprets the "body" in resurrection passages to refer to the church, i.e., the corporate body. The exegesis, as we have seen already, refutes this idea. The resurrection is based in Christ's resurrection, which is of a physical nature, not a spiritual one. Christ isn't spiritually raised from the dead, and His resurrection corresponds to ours in terms of a transformation of this earthly, mortal body into a spiritual, immortal body.

What Preterists seem to do is to ignore that this argument in Scripture is not an analogy, but a result of how Christ saves us. What He obtains for Himself, He obtains for us. If Christ obtains the kingdom, we obtain the kingdom. If Christ obtains all things, we obtain all things. If Christ is saved, we are saved. If Christ dies, we die. If Christ is raised bodily, we are raised bodily.

This isn't an analogy. An analogy can merely intersect at a single point. Hence, we do have what could be construed as an analogy with the resurrection in Romans 6 (i.e., because Christ was raised, our spirits can be given life and we can then walk in that new life), but even this is meant to argue that resurrection has two phases to it (one where the spirit must be given life and then the body that follows). In fact, that is Paul's entire argument when one considers the whole of Romans 1-8, and does not take Chapter 6 out of context. But the argument Paul makes in this and other passages, such as in Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, 2 Corinthians 4-5, Philippians3:20-21, etc. is not an analogy between the physical and the spirit in these contexts, but rather a correspondence between what Christ receives and what we, as those who are unified as one in Him, will receive as a result of that unification. Hence, it cannot be construed as an analogy or metaphor.

The "analogy" between the bodily resurrection and the spirit merely exists because Paul makes the "already/not yet" distinction that Christ makes between regeneration and resurrection. His argument is essentially that of Christ's in the Gospel of John that says that whoever will partake in the resurrection tomorrow must first partake of  regeneration today (see John 5:25-29). There is no resurrection (a regeneration and transformation of the body), then, without first being regenerated (a coming to life of the spirit), and this is why the analogy of resurrection can be used to represent the spiritual enlivening. However, the NT is also careful to never call the spiritual "resurrection" a resurrection (anastasis). Instead, resurrection language is used for regeneration (e.g., "we may walk in newness of life [Rom 6:4], "made us alive together in Christ" [Eph 2:4; Col 2:13], "raised together with Him" [Col 2:12], although note that these passages reflect what is positionally done for us, not necessarily what has been full realized by us), but this displays only that such is a prerequisite using language trading on the analogous imagery of our future bodily resurrection and not the thing itself.

However, if one notices, even in these contexts, the referent is the individual, not the corporate body. The attempt to argue that plurals are used has no force to it, as simply because the apostle addresses the group as a plural does not prove one way or the other that he is merely speaking of what is true of the group as a whole. In fact, such language most often addresses the individuals within a collective, not the collective as a singular entity, which would actually be addressed more with the pronominal "it." If anything, then, the use of the plural "we," or "you" would indicate that individuals within the group are being addressed and not the group as a whole entity (cf. Israel or the Church being referred to as a singular masculine or feminine pronoun, singular demonstrative, or a 3ms verbal form). Hence, if the plural pronouns lean in any direction, it is the direction of taking these statements as directed at the individuals of the corporate group as individuals, not as something that happens to the collective as a singular entity. In other words, what is true concerning X is true of each and every individual of Group Y. What this means is that each individual must be bodily raised from the dead, as the corporate group has no physical body to be raised, nor is it being addressed.

Now, what is attempted by some Preterists is to argue that the "body" in resurrection texts is actually the corporate body of the Church, as in "the body of Christ" metaphor that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Ephesians 2:15, 3:6, and 4:4, 12.

Hence, when passages like Romans 8 or Philippians 3 or 1 Corinthians 15 use the word "body" these texts are merely continuing this metaphor.

There are a few major problems with this view that make it an eisegetical error rather than an exegetically valid interpretation.

1. It's linguistically fallacious to transfer a contextual referent from one passage to another. Nowhere in the contexts of texts like 1 Cor 15, Phil 3, or Rom 8 does Paul use the body of Christ metaphor as the collective church. The context of these passages is the individual.

2. The Body of Christ is never referred to as "our body." Yet, in these texts, the body being raised is ours, not Christ's. This seems obvious. The Body of Christ, or Christ's Body, can refer to His actual physical body or the church in certain contexts, but the term "our body," "your bodies," etc. isn't the metaphor that Paul uses elsewhere.

3. In Romans 8:11, the term is "our bodies," a plural, which is not only never used to refer to the singular body of Christ, but wouldn't be, as Christ does not have multiple "bodies," but rather we are told in the analogy of Ephesians 4:4 that there is, in fact, only one body when it comes to the body of Christ.

4. The body that is raised is also called things like "mortal/dead," "corruptible," "perishing," "without honor," etc. Yet, this cannot be true of Christ's Church, which has been brought to life, purified, eternal, seated in the heavenly places with Christ in exaltation, etc.

5. The body of Christ analogy also trades on the idea that we are one with Christ right now. We were joined to Him when we believed. Hence, what is true of Christ right now is also true of His body right now. Since this is the case, the resurrection could not be a future event of the collective spiritual body, since what is true of Christ now is already true of the spiritual collective body of Christ. What is not a realized experience of those in the body of Christ is the future resurrection, even though Christ has already been raised in His own physical body. It is, instead, our bodies that have not entered into Christ and been redeemed yet, and hence, we await this hope as a promise from God verified by the fact that He has given life to His Church through Christ already. But Preterism requires a future resurrection from the time that Paul wrote these things, since Paul himself speaks of the resurrection as a future event (the aspect of expectation) from himself. In other words, the spiritual work of bringing to life the one new man, the body of Christ, through the Spirit has already occurred at the time Paul writes. There is nothing left, therefore, to raise but the individual bodies of believers.

6. From a historical-redemptive view, if Christ does not redeem our bodies, then what was lost is not redeemed, as redemption holds the idea of buying back something in order to restore it. This is where the gnostic tendencies within Preterism come into play. The human is just a spirit in a body, not an ensouled body, as Genesis 2 tells us. What we have in Preterism is a loose end, where a person's body, which I will argue is a huge part of what makes up that person, is lost and never saved. Hence, only part of a person is saved, not the whole human being. The goal of God's salvific plan to redeem and restore the humans He made is never realized, as He must now throw away a huge part of what makes them up. Humans, as the Bible defines them, therefore, are never really saved. This is why Preterism must believe in a non-biblical view of humanity and alternate plan of redemption in order to say that God saves people. I think it is related somewhat to the failure to distinguish between ordo and historia salutis (see If we understand that Christ is fulfilling a redemptive history of the humanity, body and soul, that was lost in terms of the historia salutis, then we understand that this is what has been, and will be, applied to us in terms of the ordo salutis, i.e., a complete restoration of humanity as existing in the ensouled body. This is why even the physical creation groans/longs for redemption of God's children so that it will be restored as well (note that the word κτίσις is used both in Romans, and everywhere else in the New Testament, to refer to the created cosmos when not speaking of a believer as a creation, which it obviously does not here- I would even include here the 2d Century ending of Mark where the disciples are to proclaim the gospel to all of creation). Thus, the entire physical world under redeemed humanity will be redeemed because they have been, not merely spiritually redeemed, but physically redeemed as well.

7. If resurrection is merely a corporate spiritual event, and the body is to be discarded, why is our work in sanctification always wrapped around the body? God sanctifies His people when they are saved (1 Cor 1:2; 6:11). This refers to the regeneration of the spirit/conscience when it has been cleansed and set apart for God to walk in newness of life. That's why the Corinthians can be addressed as "sanctified ones," and those who were "washed" and "cleansed," yet they are in need of sanctification as immature and corrupt. Yet, sanctification is still needed of the body because it too will enter life. If it is not going to enter into life, and the spirit is already sanctified, what exactly is the point of sanctifying the body? The proto-gnostics were correct to conclude that if the body is just going to be discarded in the end, then one ought to just eat and drink for tomorrow we die. Paul agrees with this assessment in 1 Cor 15:32.

I realize there may be avenues out of this particular conundrum, but I offer it up merely as something to be considered, since the idea that one needs to sanctify his body is consistent with a view toward a bodily resurrection, but not necessarily in view of a bodiless resurrection.

In any case, I wish to now summarize the argument in Romans1-8 in order to show that, contextually speaking, it is simply implausible to take the body referred to in Romans 8 as the corporate body of the Church.

Romans 1-3: All men are corrupt and under the judgment of God.
Romans 3-4: Hence, faith has always been necessary for us to be forgiven.

Romans 5: Our sin problem, however, must be dealt with, so Paul begins a discussion concerning its roots in Adam.
Romans 6: God takes us out of Adam when we have faith in Christ, unites us to Christ, puts the old man to death, and gives life to our spirits.

Romans 6-7: However, even though the spirit has been given new life, the body is still unredeemed and carries the old man with it. Hence, a war breaks out between the desire of the flesh, evidenced in the parts of one's body, that desires to be a slave to sin, and the desire of the spirit that wishes to be a slave to righteousness.

Romans 7: Paul explains that the law only increases the problem because it expresses a desire for righteousness that is external and adversarial to the nature of the flesh, causing Paul to enter into despair and to cry out, saying, "Who will save me from this body of death?"

Romans 8: The answer is that Christ has already saved us in an already-not yet framework, so that we can seek to live and take victorious refuge in the spirit He has regenerated while we eagerly await, along with the rest of creation, the redemption of our body in glorification (a process described as the goal of God from our predestination on forward, a divinely set destiny from which nothing can separate us; and thus, we may take comfort and hope in that).

Now, this is the context for the word "body." This is the context for the phrase "our bodies" and "our body." Denying this is nothing short of ignoring the context, and committing numerous exegetical fallacies, all in the effort to save a doctrinal position that misunderstands even the central texts (i.e., the Olivet Discourse texts within the Synoptics) with which this text is being reinterpreted in order to harmonize with that misunderstanding.

But let's look at another one. Philippians 3:20-21 states:

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Notice a few things here. A transformation of the body of our humble state into into σύμμορφον τῷ σώματι τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ a shared physical form with His glorified body. In other words, our body will match His. He can do this because He has the power to subject all things to Himself, and that includes even the wayward body.

Notice, as in Romans 8, we eagerly await for this to occur because we are still at war with our unredeemed bodies. This is in contrast to those who indulge in the flesh and whose appetite is their god (v. 19).

Here, the contrast is between the bodies we have now and Christ's body. How would this refer to Christ's Body as contrasted with Christ's Body if both bodies referred to the same thing? And if there is a distinction to be drawn out, what is it? A spiritual one where we who have already been made like Christ in our spirits will be made like Christ in our spirits, and so we eagerly await what we already have completely?

Again, it makes no sense to take this as anything else but referring to our physical bodies. Hence, it is "our" body, and this body is in a lowly state that must be glorified in the future, as it will be transformed into conformity with His glorified body as an act of Christ causing all things to submit to Him as their Lord.