Woods – Dispensational Hermeneutics: The Matter of Genre

Dispensational Hermeneutics: The Matter of Genre
Dr. Andy Woods
© 2005

This work is about Dispensational Hermeneutics, and the matter of genre. “genre refers to the fact that the Bible contains different types of literature, such as prophecy, epistle, poetry, etc. Such a categorization is made to alert Bible interpreters to the fact that particular genres are to be understood in light of the common traits that define a given genre”

Table of Contents

Introduction
Revelation is Apocalyptic?
Viewing Revelation’s Character as Apocalyptic
Revelation is Prophecy
Literalism and Revelation
Conclusion
Endnotes

Introduction

The word genre is a French term, which simply means kind or species. When applied to biblical studies, genre refers to the fact that the Bible contains different types of literature, such as prophecy, epistle, poetry, etc…Such a categorization is made to alert Bible interpreters to the fact that particular genres are to be understood in light of the common traits that define a given genre. For example, poetry is not to be interpreted in the same way epistolary literature is to be interpreted. Poetry contains its own unique characteristics such as parallelism. This parallelism must be taken into account in order to grasp what a poetic text is saying. However, this characteristic of parallelism need not be taken into account when interpreting an epistle. Such genre sensitivity in no way conflicts with literal interpretation. Charles Ryrie specifically notes that literalism “…does not preclude or exclude correct understanding of types, illustrations, apocalypses, and other genres within the basic framework of literal interpretation.” The literal interpreter simply recognizes that words take on their ordinary meaning within a particular genre.

Despite the fact that genre can be a helpful device in interpreting Scripture, today’s evangelicals have pushed the concept too far. Today, genre is often used as an excuse for suspending the ordinary rules of hermeneutics. An example from the legal arena may be helpful as a way of explaining how genre classification can be used as a justification for suspending the ordinary rules of hermeneutics. Conservatives often complain that liberals have read into the Constitution ideas that are not found in a literal reading of the document, such as the right to procure an abortion and a strict wall of separation between church and state. Liberals respond by arguing that the founders purposely created an ambiguous document that was not intended be read literally. Rather it was intentionally created to be a “living document.” In other words, its ambiguous language was intentionally chosen so that a judge could alter it one direction or another depending upon where society was heading. Such a design was necessary because the founders could not foresee the technological advances that society would experience. Thus, by classifying the Constitution according to the genre “living document,” the judge is no longer required to follow the literal, grammatical, historical method in interpreting its contents.

The phrase that Robert Thomas uses to expose this abuse in biblical studies is “genre override.” Nowhere is this abuse clearer than in the area of so-called “apocalyptic literature.” This categorization is often used as an excuse for the utilization of a dual hermeneutic that treats prophecy non-literally and the rest of Scripture literally. Walvoord spoke frankly about this problem. In 1994, he was asked, “What do you predict will be the most significant theological issues over the next ten years?” He responded, “The hermeneutical problem of not interpreting the Bible literally, especially the prophetic areas. The church today is engulfed in the idea that one cannot interpret prophecy literally.” The purpose of this paper is to expose how apocalypticism is often used as an excuse for dispensing with the literal, grammatical, historical method in the realm of biblical eschatology. The methodological flaws in this approach will be exposed as well.

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