Paradise The Pattern For Prophecy

Southward through Eden went a river large,

Nor changed his course, but through the shaggy hill

Passed underneath ingulfed, for God had thrown

That mountain as his garden-mould high raised

Upon the rapid current, which through veins

Of porous earth with kindly thirst up drawn,

Rose a fresh fountain, and with many a rill

Watered the garden; thence united fell

Down the steep glade, and met the nether flood,

Which from his darksome passage now appears,

And now divided into four main streams,

Runs diverse, wand'ring many a famous realm

And country whereof here needs no account,

But rather to tell how, if Art could tell,

How from that sapphire fount the crisped brooks, on orient pearl and sands of gold, With mazy error under pendent shades Ran nectar, visiting each plant, and fed worthy of Paradise which not nice Art In beds and curious knots, but Nature boon Poured forth profuse on hill and dale and plain, Both where the morning sun first warmly smote The open field, and where the unpierced shade Imbrowned the noontide bowers.

John Milton, Paradise Lost [4.223-46]

You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so it is with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation [9]


I began my personal journey toward the eschatology of dominion one evening in church, about a dozen years ago. The pastor, a preacher famous for his expository method of Bible teaching, had just begun a series on prophecy. As he eloquently defended his eschatology of defeat, I was struck by the fact that he seemed utterly unable to develop his views organically from the Bible. Oh, he quoted some Scripture - a verse here, a verse there. But he was never able to show that his explanation of the future fit in with the overall pattern of the Bible. In other words, he was very adept at imposing his views of reality upon the Biblical text, making sure his verses were shuffled together in the proper order. But he could not show how his doctrines flo wed out of Scripture; his eschatology did not seem to be an organic part of the Story which the Bible tells.

What I began to realize that night was that the way to recover the Biblical eschatology must be through an understanding of the Biblical Story. Instead of trying to fit the Bible into a prearranged pattern, we must try to discover the patterns that are already there. We must allow the Bible's own structure to arise from the text itself, to impose itself upon our own understanding. We must become accustomed to the Biblical vocabulary and modes of expression, seeking to shape our own thinking in terms of Scriptural categories.

This perspective sheds valuable light on the old debate about "literal" versus "symbolic" interpretations. To a great degree, that debate is beside the point; for the fact is that all interpreters are "literalists" on some points and "symbolists" on others.

For example, I am looking at a recent commentary on Revelation, written by a well-known evangelical scholar. The back cover boldly proclaims: This may be the most literal exposition of Revelation you will ever read! And yet, upon close inspection, the commentary actually teaches a highly symbolic interpretation of many items in the prophecy. Here are a few of them:

1. The "soiled garments" of the Christians in Sardis (Rev. 3 :4);

2. The promise that Christians will become "pillars" in the Temple (3:12);

3. The "lukewarm" temperature of the Laodiceans (3:15-16);

4. Christ's offer to sell "gold," "white garments," and "eye salve" (3:18);

5. Christ's "knocking" at the "door" (3:20);

6. The "Lion of the tribe of Judah" (5:5);

7. The "Lamb" with "seven eyes" (5:6);

8. The "olive trees" and "lampstands"(ll:4);

9. The "woman clothed with the sun" (12:1);

12. The "great harlot who sits on many waters" (17:1).

There are few "literalists" who would disagree that these pictures in Revelation are meant to be understood symbolically. What we must recognize, however, is that symbols are used throughout the rest of Scripture as well, right alongside very literal language. This is because the Bible is Literature: it is divinely inspired and inerrant literature, but it is literature all the same. This means that we must read it as literature. Some parts are meant to be literally understood, and they are written accordingly — as history, or theological propositions, or whatever. But one would not expect to read the Psalms or the Song of Solomon by the same literary standards used for the Book of Remans. It would be like reading Hamlet's soliloquy "literally": "The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune . . . to take arms against a sea of troubles "

You see, we cannot understand what the Bible really (literally) means unless we appreciate its use of literary styles. Would we understand the Twenty-third Psalm properly if we were to take it "literally"? Would it not, instead, look somewhat silly? In fact, if taken literally, it would not be true: for I daresay that the Lord doesn 't make every Christian to lie down in literal, green pastures. But we don't usually make such crude mistakes in reading Biblical poetry. We know it is written in a style that often makes use of symbolic language. But we must realize that the same is true of the prophets: they, also, spoke in poetry, in figures and symbols, drawing on a rich heritage of Biblical images which, as we shall see, actually began in the original Paradise — the Garden of Eden.

Indeed, that is where prophecy began. And it is worth noting that the very first promise of the coming Redeemer was stated in highly symbolic terms. God said to the Serpent:

I will put enmity

Between you and the woman

And between your seed and her seed;

He shall crush your head,

And you shall strike His heel. (Gen. 3:15)

The real question to start with, therefore, is not some artificial symbolic-vs.-literal debate, but a much more basic issue: Shall our interpretation be Biblical or speculative? In other words, when I attempt to understand or explain something in the Bible, should I go to the Bible itself for the answers, or should I come up with something "creative" on my own? To put the question in this way is much more accurate, and will yield more fruitful results.

Let me use an extreme example to make my point clear. The Book of Revelation describes a woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, and laboring in childbirth while a dragon hovers nearby to devour her child. A radically speculative interpreter might turn first to news of the latest genetic experiments, to determine whether a woman's size and chemical composition might be altered sufficiently for her to be able to wear the sun; he might also check to see if the Loch Ness Monster has surfaced recently. A Biblical interpreter, on the other hand, would begin to ask questions: Where in the Bible does this imagery come from? Where does the Bible speak of a woman in labor, and what is its significance in those contexts? Where does the Bible speak of a Dragon? Where does the Bible speak of someone trying to murder an infant? If we are going to understand the message of the Bible, we must acquire the habit of asking questions like this.

Of course, each approach has its drawbacks. The main drawback of the Biblical method is that it usually requires more hard work, necessitating a greater familiarity with the Bible. The main drawback of the speculative method, for all its sensationalism, is that it just isn't Biblical.

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Preparing for Armageddon, Natural Disasters, Nuclear Strikes, the Zombie Apocalypse, and Every Other Threat to Human Life on Earth. Most of us have thought about how we would handle various types of scenarios that could signal the end of the world. There are plenty of movies on the subject, psychological papers, and even survivalists that are part of reality TV shows. Perhaps you have had dreams about being one of the few left and what you would do in order to survive.

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