Friday, February 5, 2021
What the Apostle Paul says about the Second Coming of Christ can and should be taken literally. Literally, you should read Paul’s writings literally (most of the time). What John the Apocalyptic Narrator says about the Second Coming of Christ should (almost always) be taken figuratively, and not literally. Figuratively, you should read John’s Apocalypse figuratively.
If you get and keep that straight, it should help you a lot, even immensely. It will help you (and your community of devoted listeners) avoid a plethora of potentially perplexing problems and may clear up accumulated clouds of contradictory confusion. With the Apostle Paul, do default to a literal reading. With John the Narrator of the Apocalypse, do not default to a literal reading, but instead default to a figurative reading. This will help you. Please try it out, even if you are reluctant to believe me.
Forgive me. I know I sound pedantic and even tedious. But this point needs to be hammered home, because many, if not most, of the interpretive problems circulating in the churches and especially in pop culture can be explained as simple hermeneutical malpractice. If the word hermeneutics is unfamiliar to you, I will explain it in just a bit.
Parenthetically (but importantly), interpreting Jesus himself requires both a figurative approach and a literal approach, because sometimes Jesus flips into his mysterious, cryptic mode and speaks figuratively, as when he tells parables in public; and sometimes Jesus very deliberately takes a less mysterious tack and speaks literally, as when he answers his disciples’ questions privately. Since Jesus talks about his Second
Coming Advent and the End of the World Age both figuratively and literally, we are left to sort things out a bit. And that is where the Apostle Paul in particular is quite helpful, simply because Paul speaks to his audience more literally.
But what does the word hermeneutics mean? A hermeneutic is how a reader, viewer, or listener approaches a book, movie, television show, play, or radio program. If you think to yourself, “This television show is probably going to be boring,” you have not only a grudging attitude, but also a skeptical hermeneutic, which will probably make it harder to win your appreciation. Your hermeneutic has everything to do with your expectations of what you are about to see, read, hear, and experience. Your expectation and your hermeneutic: They forever go together. Clear enough; yes?
Usually, we are pretty good guessers, when it comes to our various hermeneutics. What we expect of a play or a movie or a show is often accurate. But sometimes we are not good guessers, at all. Although we were expecting one thing, it turned out to be something somewhat different or entirely different. And when our expectations of a spectacle or an event are wrong, it sometimes has to do with what someone else told us about it beforehand. Other people can and often do mess with our hermeneutic. That is especially true when we consider our hermeneutic influencer a reliable expert. “But my friend told me that this was such a good movie. And she is usually right.”
When it comes to understanding the Bible, we are often very, very influenced by the Pastor. If he or she tells us that a particular passage must mean something, we usually believe him or her. Naturally so. But do realize that if the Pastor is wrong about the passage in consideration, it might completely skew your hermeneutic — maybe completely, and potentially for the rest of your life. That is why it is good to listen to more than one reputed expert. And it is even better to know the Bible well for yourself. Yes, indeed.
Now I will let you in on a secret: A lot of pastors have a hard time themselves figuring out and understanding what the Apostle Paul and John the Apocalypse Narrator and Jesus himself had to say about the Second
Coming Advent of Christ and the End of the World Age. Part of the reason these pastors have a hard time figuring it out is because they are influenced by scholars who do not recognize what needs to be read literally and what needs to be read figuratively.
That last sentence actually explains a lot. I hope it carries adequate weight for you.
You may be wondering at this point why you should believe what I am saying here. Okay, I am glad you asked that. You do not need to believe me, at all. I just want you to hear my claims and consider them. Let them roll around in your head for a while. See if they pass the test of time. You might even ask your pastor if there is some validity to what I am saying. While he or she might take issue with what I say should be read literally and what I say should be read figuratively, your esteemed pastor will likely concede my point about the influence of skewed hermeneutics. Your hermeneutical expectation of a passage of Scripture is very likely to determine how you read it. And that expectation — that hermeneutic — was probably formed by what you heard from the pulpit.
Much more importantly, go back to the Bible and try to read all those passages about the Second Advent and the End of the Age anew. Are you understanding what you are reading too literally? Are you understanding what you are reading too figuratively? Most readers err one way or the other.