Philosophical “Interpretation,” Time and Scripture

The following derives from a dialog with a philosophy student contemplating comparative scriptural worldviews centered on the topic of eschatological cessationism (also known as “preterism”). In this discussion, we target the unbelieving use of time concepts employed by human philosophy (guised as “interpretation”) to disbelieve what the apostles and prophets of scripture teach about the future and the past.

For more on the misuse of philosophy applied to scripture and especially to cessationism, please see the articles at the top of this section.   



------ Original Message ------

From: "littleflock"
To:
Sent: 3/12/2012 5:19:55 PM
Subject: Cessationism & the Philosophical Interpretation of Scripture

 

Dear _______, 

I just want to sum up some points I shared with you about Cessationism and philosophy.

 

1. The Bible condemns human philosophy as a basis for understanding spiritual truth. 

You are already familiar with Colossians 2:8 

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 


This verse must be read in context of verse 16 to see that Paul is not just talking about extra-biblical philosophy (like stoicism or hedonism for instance), but about philosophy applied to scripture: In the case at hand, people were using scriptures to support their own empty philosophies of holiness based in Old Testament regulations, etc. 

16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-


Human philosophy is also the basis of Christian cults in which people have already determined what they want to believe about something and then find the scripture to make it fit. This philosophy is often built also on spurious revelation apart from the scriptures or that clearly violates author intent (which I call “revelationism.”) Paul deals with revelationist human philosophy in vs. 18 

18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

 

So we see two forms of human philosophizing which Paul equally condemns. There is orthodox philosophy and cultic philosophy. 

·        Orthodox philosophizing preserves the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.

·        Cultic philosophizing violates them.

·        Both use scripture yet both are based in the unbelief of the carnal mind

(There is a hypocritical irony in which orthodox apologetics ministries prosecute cultic philosophies for their revelationism while they themselves hold to naturalist philosophical interpretations of scripture.)  

 

Peter also condemns the idea of basing understanding of scripture on human philosophy, specifically with respect to prophecy. His word for this is “interpretation.” He makes it clear that scripture prophecy (ie, the basis of eschatology) must be spiritually illumined to be understood. It is not to be “interpreted” by human “exegesis.” 

2 Pt.1:20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

 

In light of I Cor. 2, we see that all scripture can only be properly understood through the power of the Spirit who inspired them. 

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

 

 

2.  Orthodox philosophy based in naturalist interpretation is often based in turn on naturalist observation inside the time continuum. 

In many of these philosophies human time-based observation is used in some way to support the philosophy. The passage of time, whether past or future, is used as an unacknowledged hermeneutical principal to support the human interpretation. 

Peter condemns the philosophic gainsaying of scripture rooted in time-based naturalist observation, specifically with respect to eschatology: 

2 Pt. 3:3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming ? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation."

 

3. Four prominent philosophies ply the church today masked as legitimate “interpretation” which use time to deny the author intent and otherwise plain meaning of eschatological passages. 

Three are held by orthodox philosophers and the fourth is cultic while feigning to be orthodox. They are as follows: 

A. Theistic Evolution 

Theistic evolution is a humanly interpretive philosophy based in the naturalist philosophy of evolution. This philosophy is based on the human observation that all known climactic and other geologic change occurs exceedingly slowly. Therefore the Creation account of Genesis 1 can not be believed literally and the scripture must be “interpreted” to accommodate the hypothesis of evolution, despite the precise meaning of the Hebrew word for “day” used by the author (Moses).

The belief is that given enough time, God could have created the earth through evolution over six unspecified “ages’ amounting to millions and billions of years. The only scripture support offered for this is a totally unrelated similitude by Peter which says that with God, “a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.” Peter is using this similitude to describe the quality of the patience of God. A similitude is a poetic device that cannot be used to interpret an unrelated factual statement made by God about something He has said He has done or will do.

Besides the fact that to use the “Day-Age Theory” even six thousand years would not be long enough to satisfy the demands of evolutionary philosophy, the application fails when made to other statements by the Lord about a day. It would be the same for instance as to say that Jesus meant that He would rise again within three thousand years. The application of Peter to Genesis is a violation of author intent on both ends.

 

B. Cessationism 

Cessationism is a human philosophy based in the natural observation of the passage of time which says that the sign gifts and other  supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit upon the church “died out” (“ceased”) either with the death of the first apostles or with the completion of the New Testament canon of scripture. There is no scripture by any demonstration of author intent to support such a claim.

The only scripture available to attempt to support this philosophy is an entirely out-of-context reading of I Corinthians 13 in which Paul says that when that which is “perfect” arrives, tongues and prophecy will cease. Paul’s context makes clear however that perfection is defined by the ceasing of all human knowledge and his ability to know the Lord perfectly, something attainable only at glorification. To the contrary, Paul explains that the purpose and function of all the gifts and offices of the Holy Spirit are for the purpose of perfecting the church unto its time of union with Christ in full maturity (Ephesians 4).


 

C. Eschatological Cessationism 

Eschatological cessationism (also known as preterism) is a human philosophy dignified by the term “interpretation” that denies the literal meaning of the book of Revelation and  the other eschatological descriptions of Paul, Peter and Jesus pertaining to the events leading to the manifest return of the Lord to the earth and the glorification of the saints.  While held to unsurprisingly by cessationists, this philosophy is amazingly held to by many who otherwise do not accept basic cessationism. 

Eschatological cessationism is based in the observation of the extensive passage of time according to human perception wherein the Lord has not yet returned thus to say that everything predicted about His return must have already been fulfilled. This philosophical denial of future prophecy by defining it as past completed action is specifically condemned by Paul in the entirety of II Thessalonians 2 as well as by Peter as a private (ie, self-developed) interpretation and a scriptural gainsaying of the future as noted above.   

The specific effect of this philosophy is to deny the relevance of the Book of Revelation to the saints of the present age without appearing to deny the veracity of the book itself, and to otherwise eradicate any sense of active anticipation for the Lord’s return which according to I John 3:2-3 is a necessary contributor to our perfection.

In the way that theistic evolution uses time as an open ended creator in the past, eschatological cessationism uses time as an open ended creator of the future kingdom, having no certain sense or hope or expectation of any time at which the Lord will return and His manifest kingdom may appear. It will just somehow “evolve.” By squelching the active expectation of a coming supernatural kingdom, eschatological cessationism allows philosophers to define the manifest kingdom in terms of the fleshly here and now for which they live.

 

D. Universal Reconciliation 

Universal Reconciliation is a human philosophy based on a carnal time-based perception of divine “fairness” that denies the permanent enmity of the seed of satan and that of Christ, and of the final destruction of the human population that does not come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through faith as portrayed from beginning to the end of all scripture. This philosophy is clothed with scriptures entirely divorced from author intent regarding apostolic use of the term “all” when referring to God’s intent in salvation, as well as to a redefinition of the usage of the Greek term for “eternal” based entirely in a time-conscious definition (and only where it suits the philosophy to do so) as well as redefinition of the terms for permanent destruction.  

The redefining is so extensive that universal reconciliationists have found it necessary to create their own translation of the Bible.—a sure sign of cultism. Again, as with theistic evolution, the great savior in this philosophy is time. Given enough time, everyone’s sins will have to be paid for so that they can be reconciled to God., which can only be “fair.” In reality, this philosophy is cultic because it is forced to posit another means of salvation outside of faith in Christ, namely, human suffering in hell to pay for one’s sins.


 

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If you can see this big picture regarding human philosophy and its use of time to create its own belief systems apart from author intent and genuine revelation of the Spirit upon the scriptures, you will do very well in knowing what you believe and why. Your faith will be exceedingly sound. And you will know how to spot and answer the unbelief of Christian “philosophers” pontificatingly titled “Dr.” and “Rev.” when you hear it.

What is the value of staying free from believing in these philosophies? It is as John says, so that “you will not lose your reward.” The truth is that untold multitudes of believers are going to lose their reward before the Lord because they persisted in believing in these human philosophies (under the guise of the word “interpretations”), even though they were warned.
 

For specifics on genuine revelatory eschatology concerning the end, please see all the writings of Leland Earls, but especially the two booklets on the website The Three Comings of Jesus and The First and the Last, which capture the entire essence of the unfolding process based in the harvest parables of the Lord.