This article will examine the contradiction between what dispensationalists purport they believe and how they actually interpret.
Gregory Peterson, in his master’s thesis, writing for dispensationalists, says, in support of the Grammatico-Historical method of interpretation, ” [The exegete] will inquire into the circumstances under which [the author] wrote, the manners and customs of his age, and the purpose or object which he had in view. He has a right to assume that no sensible author will be knowingly inconsistent with himself or seek to bewilder and mislead his readers.”
That sounds reasonable enough, but dispensationalists insist upon a literal hermeneutic. So keeping what Peterson says in mind, we will see that, in reality, what they say and do are opposites. To make our point, the Scriptures consist of several genres of literature: Apocalyptic, Epistles, Gospels, Law, Narrative, Poetry, Prophecy, and Wisdom. With that in mind, the essence of Grammatico-Historical is determining the author’s purpose and intent, employing common sense and reason, and keeping things in context. Therefore, it is unreasonable to use a literal hermeneutic on all or exclusively on any.
In addition, there are hundreds of figures as identified in E.W. Bullinger’s 1,100-page book, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, such as allegory, antithesis, double meaning, enigma, euphemism, fable, gnome, hyperbole, idiom, irony, metaphor, metonymy, mystery, oxymoron, parable, personification, proverb, riddle, simile, symbol, and type, to name a few. Therefore, it is illogical to apply literalism to them. Finally, there are more than several methods of interpretation, chief among them, besides Grammatico-Historical, is Allegorical.
I name Allegorical specifically because, in the words of Peterson, “Dispensational Premillennialist’s claim that ‘literal interpretation is to be the basic, primary way of approaching the texts of biblical prophecies’” (cites Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy p.24). Peterson then says, “The debate, then, is characterized by ‘literal’ versus ‘allegorical'” (p. 95).
Interestingly, Dr. Terry, whom Peterson previously lauded, lists no Literal or Futurist method in his survey of the different forms of interpretation. In all probability, they had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. But, since we have already given a cursory definition of Grammatico-Historical, we will now provide this from Terry’s description of the Allegorical method “…it will be noticed at once that its habit is to disregard the common signification of words and give wing to all manner of fanciful speculation. It does not draw out the legitimate meaning of an author’s language but foists into it whatever the whim or fancy of an interpreter may desire. As a system, therefore, it puts itself beyond all well-defined principles and laws” (p. 224).
So the question we ask is, Why do dispensationalists say the debate is “literal vs. allegorical?” Who uses the allegorical method? It is a mystery why they chose to pit literalism against the allegorical. Those with the best argument whom dispensationalists find themselves at odds are preterists, who are generally not futurists but instead see much of biblical prophecy fulfilled in the generation of Christ, the apostles, and the catastrophe of A.D. 70. For the most part, preterists use the principles of Grammatico-Historical in the most reasonable way.
The primary dispute, of which everything else is secondary, is the date of Revelation. If after A.D. 70, as dispensationalists claim, then all the prophecies are in the future. However, if written pre A.D. 70, the prophecies easily find their fulfillment within the generation of Christ and the apostles. And on this point is where dispensationalists are most disingenuous. The following will show how weak their argument is as they defend the late date and how underhanded they are as they portray their view.
Peterson (pp. 139-140) says Mark Hitchcock, who has written a doctoral dissertation on the subject, concludes, “I do believe that the case for the late date (A.D. 95) can be proven at least by a preponderance of the evidence, if not beyond a reasonable doubt.” But Peterson doesn’t even tell us what Hitchcock said. Instead, Peterson continues, “This evidence includes the external testimony of the most reliable of the early church fathers, such as Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202), Clement of Alexandria (150-215), Origen (184-253), Victorinus (250-303), Eusebius (260-339), and Jerome (342-420). Probably the best statement from the early church is from Irenaeus who made the unambiguous declaration….”
I have written extensively about Irenaeus and his supposed unambiguous declaration, which I call his notorious statement, and it is far from credible. Not only that, but as we see, Irenaeus predates all the others; hence, he alone is their source. Terry (pp. 237-239) said this about the external testimony, “For, it all turns upon the single testimony of Irenaeus….” Then, after giving a short blurb about Clement, Origen, and Eusebius, he says, “All other testimonies on the subject are later than these, and consequently of little or no value.” Finally, he says, “No one would lay great stress upon any of these later statements, but putting them all together, and letting the naked facts stand apart, shorn of all the artful colorings of partisan writers, we find the external evidence of John’s writing the apocalypse at the close of Domitian’s reign resting on the sole testimony of Irenaeus, who wrote a hundred years after that date, and whose words admit to two different meanings.”
Thus, Peterson’s statement that the supposed unambiguous statement by Irenaeus, supposedly the most reliable of the early church fathers, is utter nonsense. Next time, we will look at Irenaeus’ notorious statement.