Understanding The Bible
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Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
INTRODUCTION TO HERMENEUTICS
RULES OF GENERAL HERMENEUTICS
Law of grammatical construction
meaning of words
The words of Scripture must be taken in their common meaning unless such meaning is shown inconsistent with other words in the sentence, with argument or context, or with other parts Scripture. Note section C in part III above. For example, in I Thes. 4:15, the word "prevent" means today "precede." In 2 Thes. 2:7, the word "let" means today "hinder."
the usus loquendi, the current use at the time of writing. This is
determined: The writer often
explains the meaning himself. (cp. 2 Tim. 3:17) The immediate
context often offers a clue. (cp. Hebrew poetry, Ps. 18:6-15)
The writer often explains the meaning himself. (cp. 2 Tim. 3:17)
The immediate context often offers a clue. (cp. Hebrew poetry, Ps. 18:6-15)
Note the use of the word in other parts of Scripture. In this regard it is to be admitted that the meaning of words occurring only once in the Scriptures (hapax legomena) is more difficult to determine.
Study the etymology of the word.
The study of similar words in cognate languages can be helpful (but its value is often overstressed).
Consider the nature
of the subject in connection with which the word is used. (cp. 2 Cor.
Determine the tense,
voice, and mood of each word
Robertson and Davis speak of three kinds of action presented by tense. "These ideas are (1) punctiliar (action stated as a point), (2) linear or durative (action presented as continuous or repeated), or (3) as a state of completion (action presented as finally attained after effort, or as the permanent result of completion). " A key example of the importance of observing the tense is Mt. 16:18, "on this rock, I will build my church." Note the future tense gives considerable doctrinal emphasis to the time of the founding of the Church (later, at Pentecost). Also see 1 John 3:9, "cannot go on sinning" (lit.), and Rom. 12:1, "make a present once for all of your body" (lit.).
Voice relates the action to the subject. The active voice represents the subject as acting. The middle voice, while still representing the subject as acting, calls special attention to him. The passive voice represents the subject as being acted upon.
Mood deals with the manner of the affirmation." (Robertson and Davis)
There are three principal moods: indicative -definite assertion; subjunctive-doubtful assertion; imperative-commanding assertion.
Consider the presence
or absence of the article
e.g., 1 John 5:11-12, inserting "the" before "life" inverse 12.
Consider the case,
number, and gender of each noun
Compare Eph. 2:8; Gal. 2:20. A key case is the distinction in Mt. 16:18 between the masculine "petros" (referring to the small rock or pebble, Peter) and the feminine "petra" (referring to the great boulder foundation rock of the truth concerning Christ's person and work, just announced by Peter, Mt. 16:16-17).
Consider the matter
of emphasis in the sentence
e.g., 1 Cor. 2:2, "I determined not to know anything among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified." The emphasis is not where it is usually placed on the word "anything, " for Paul taught them the whole range of Christian truth, but the emphasis is upon "among you (Corinthians)," who so exalted human wisdom that Paul emphasized the wisdom of God, i.e., the cross (1 Cor. 1:17-25).
Law of context
"The word context (Latin, con - together, and textus - woven) denotes something that is woven together. Applied to a written document, it means the connection of thought supposed to run through every passage which constitutes a whole by itself. . .The immediate context is that which immediately precedes or follows a given word or sentence. The remote context is that which is less closely connected and may embrace a whole paragraph or section." (Terry)
"The meaning of a word will often be modified by the connection in which it is used." (Angus - Green)
"The study of the context is the most legitimate, efficacious, and trustworthy resource at the command of the interpreter. Nothing can be more convenient than to explain an author by himself and to have recourse to the entire train of thought." (Collier)
It has been suggested often that "a text without a context is pretext."
Note that often the chapter divisions are faulty and ride roughshod over the law of context, e.g., Mt. 9:38-11:1; 16:28-17:1; Mk. 2:23-3:1; Acts 7:60-8:1; 2 Cor. 6:18-7:1; etc.) Miles Coverdale, a 16th century translator, gave these following rules to those who would study his translations of the Scripture: "It shall grately help ye to understand Scripture, if thou mark not only what is spoken or wryten, but of whom and to whom, with what words, at what time, where, to what intent, with what circumstances, considering what goeth before, and what followeth."
Historical connection: where facts or events recorded are connected in a chronological order, e.g., 1 and 2 Kings.
Historical -dogmatic: where doctrinal discourse is connected with some historical facts or circumstances. Hebrews 11 and Romans 4 illustrate this type.
Logical: where thoughts or arguments are presented in logical order, e.g., Galatians 3.
Psychological: where the
thought is dependent upon some association of ideas, e.g., in Romans 9:1,
Paul takes the thought of "no separation from God" from 8:38-39 and
expresses his willingness to be accursed, if his people could thus be
Law of circumstances
The interpreter should know facts concerning the following:
The author--his background, education, personality, and religious experience. The personal traits of the authors display themselves in their writings. Moses was "learned in all the wisdom of Egypt" and Luke was "the beloved physician."
The date of writing
The place of writing
The political and religious situation prevailing at the time in the place of writing
The writing habits of the author, i.e., his style
The customs of the
Customs change according to time and place. A book on Near Eastern archaeology and present Palestinian customs can be of great service in understanding the Scriptures.
Law of analogy of faith
Specific Bible passages are to be interpreted in the light of the entire Bible. Through the use of this law the Bible becomes its own best commentary. This principle, first defined by Augustine, is the ultimate expansion of tile-law of context.
Law 1 - grammatical construction - context is the sentence.
Law 2 - context - context is the paragraph.
Law 3 - scope and design - context is the individual book.
Law 4 - circumstances and customs - context is the background of author and times of the individual book.
Law 5 - analogy of faith - context is the entire Bible.
This law (analogy of faith) is built upon the premise that the entire Bible has one ultimate author, the Holy Spirit. Since this Omniscient, Holy One could not contradict Himself, the interpreter who accepts the premise stated above has the right to believe that the Bible does not contradict itself. Its teachings, rather, are totally consistent.
Note the following as particulars of this law:
A difficult Biblical passage is clarified when read in the light of a simpler passage on the same theme found in another book of the Bible. For example, the detailed prophetic teaching of Revelation, when prefaced with a knowledge of the simpler prophetic outline of Daniel, becomes more comprehensible. Comparing passages found in the books of Samuel and Kings with those found in Chronicles often helps. A similar case is to be seen in the four Gospels. Caution: the interpreter must make sure that the passages under consideration are actually parallel.
It was not God's purpose to reveal all the truth concerning any one doctrine at one given time. Rather His method has been to unfold progressively the doctrine through successive writers. Note that the idea of a Redeemer is indicated in the Bible as early as Genesis 3:15. The rest of the Bible expands and fulfils this embryonic statement. In the light of this fact, later books may be expected to elaborate upon and elucidate the teachings of the earlier.
In connection with this thought, some interpreters speak of the Law of First Mention. By this they infer that the first mention of a Scriptural term usually gives the key to its meaning in every other place.
The interpreter must be mindful that God is working out His program in the world. From Genesis through Revelation, from creation through the various ages to the eternal state, God is working according to a plan. It is imperative that the Bible student have a panoramic view of this Divine plan in order that they have the proper perspective concerning the myriad of Biblical details.
The Bible speaks of ages (past, Eph. 3:9; present. Gal. 1:4; and future, Eph. 2:7). Although God's ultimate goal remains unchanged, His revelation to and expectation of these various ages differ. These stewardships of revelation and responsibility through the ages are called dispensations. Affirming the existence of such dispensations is not the same as questioning either the immutability or the omnipotence of God. He is neither fickle nor frustrated. However, it is to be affirmed that within the unchangeable, wise plan of God there are variations, each one of which works toward the fulfillment of His ultimate purpose. These changes within the plan of God are attributable to God's longsuffering with man and are an evidence of His exhaustless patience in letting man see for himself his utter inability to produce a personal righteousness acceptable to a holy God, and his urgent need of a Savior.
to the basic principle of the changes of emphasis which take place from
age to age, it then becomes the responsibility of a Bible expositor to
determine where a specific passage belongs in the program of God.
Although the context of the famous Augustine quotation is not directly
appropriate to the dispensational idea, the particular words are
legitimate to adapt at this point: "Distinguish the ages and the
Scriptures agree. " To claim, as we do, that all Scripture is profitable
for us in this Church age does not require that we interpret all
Scripture as applying directly to us. All Scripture is for us, but not
all Scripture is to us!
Definitions and explanations Definition and
explanation of "age" Definition and
explanation of "dispensation" The ages and
dispensations compared and related the covenants
integrated with the "dispensations" Evidence of
An age is an indefinite period of time, either in the past, present, of future, to which God definitely relates man. It has been used commonly as a synonym of the word dispensation, but should be thought of as referring more specifically to the area of time than to the area of truth (some particular stewardship of light or dispensation) for which man is made responsible to God. The change of age indicates man has failed in his response to the special revelation (dispensation or stewardship) characterizing the previous time-period (age). (Mason)
The word dispensation means literally a stewardship or administration or economy. Therefore, in its biblical usage, a dispensation is a divinely established stewardship of a particular revelation of God's mind and will which is instituted in the first instance with a new age, and which brings added responsibility to the whole race of men or that portion of the race to whom the revelation is particularly given by God.
Associated with the revelation, on the one hand, are promises of reward or blessing for those responding in the obedience of faith, while on the other hand there are warnings of judgment upon those who do not respond in the obedience of faith to that particular revelation.
However, though the time-period (age) ends, certain principles of the revelation (dispensation or stewardship) are often carried over into succeeding ages, because God's truth does not cease to be truth, and these principles become part of the cumulative body of truth for which man is responsible in the progressive unfolding revelation of God's redemptive purpose. Some of these principles are passed on intact (as, e.g., conscience, human government, Abrahamic covenant) and some are passed on adjusted (law, church) to the age(s) which follow. (Mason)
W. Graham Scroggie's helpful comment on the word dispensation includes an emphasis upon both its biblical and its theological use: "The word oikonomia bears one significance, and means an administrator whether of a house, of property, of a state, or a nation, or as in the present study, the administration of the human race or any part of it, at any given time. Just as a parent would govern his household in different ways, so God has at different times dealt with men in different ways, according to the necessity of the case, but throughout for one great, grand end." (Ruling Lines of Progressive Revelation, pp.62-63.)
The chart below will serve to show the relationship of "age" and "dispensation. " The age (period of time), indicated by the rectangular box of solid lines, comes to an end. The dispensation (stewardship of light), which has been distinctive in the particular age in question continues on in its principles into succeeding ages, although certain accompanying details of the dispensation may be limited to and end with the age. The dispensation is indicated by the dash lines as continuing on into later ages and culminating in the millennial (kingdom) age. Likewise, since the dispensation, economy, or stewardship of light featured in each age represents an expansion and heightening of God's revelation, this progress of revelation is illustrated by ascending "stairs" from the early and elementary revelation to fuller and climatic revelation, with added responsibility .
MASON'S DISPENSATION CHART
There is a little difference of opinion in relation to these two periods marked with asterisks. If we insider there is a "dispensation of innocency" and/or "a dispensation of tribulation, " then we have eight (not the usual seven) dispensations. Eight would mark God's new beginning!
NOTE: Our present Church Age is properly thought of as parenthetic, IF one is thinking in terms of GOD'S DEALINGS WITH ISRAEL, and particularly of the prophecy of the 70 weeks of Daniel 9:24-27.
BUT IF the perspective be God's total dealings with the world, and the ages be thought of as presenting the expanding revelation of God, the Church Age is not properly conceived of as parenthetic. The Church Age is a foreknown part of the plan of God, like the other ages, and represents an advance in spiritual light (dispensation). The fact that God pleased to reserve announcement of the age until Israel's rejection of Messiah does not in any way affect the fact that the Church Age takes its place with the other ages in the methodical and purposed expansion of Divine truth and fulfillment of the Divine purpose.
Note distinction between Law and present dispensation (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:23-25; 4:21; 5:1,6; Eph. 2:15; 3:2-6:9).
The statement of Christ, "Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time. . .but I say" (6 times in Mt. 5).
Consider the widening ministry of Christ. He ministered first to the lost sheep of Israel only (Mt. 15:24), but later left the command for His disciples to go into all the world (Mt. 28:19; Acts 1:8). iv. The Bible recognizes different classes of people. (i) Compare 1 Corinthians 10:32 (ii) Ministry of Christ (iii) OT Law given to Jews only
explanation of "age"
explanation of "dispensation"
The ages and
dispensations compared and related
the covenants integrated with the "dispensations"
The Bible speaks of different covenants with different people at different times, as indicated in the chart on page 19 (opposite).
The eight covenants in detail
Covenant (not mentioned as a covenant in Scripture), Gen.
This covenant conditions the life of man in innocency.
Covenant (not mentioned as a covenant in Scripture), Gen.
This covenant conditions life of fallen Adam and his posterity and promises a Redeemer. "Elements of the covenant: (1) Curse upon the serpent. (2) Abiding enmity between the seed of Satan and the Seed of woman. (3) Final victory of the woman's Seed through suffering. (4) The pain of motherhood (Jn. 16:21). (5) The changed state of woman. (6) Creation enslaved. (7) Physical death." (Scofield)
Noahic Covenant, Gen. 8:21-9:17,24-27.
'Elements of the covenant: (1) The race not to be again destroyed. (2) The natural order of the seasons to be preserved. (3) The sons of Noah to be each the head of a distinct division of the race." (Scofield) This covenant establishes the principle of Human Government.
Abrahamic Covenant, Gen. 12:1-3ff.
"Elements of the covenant: (1) Originates the nation of Israel. (2) Vests the title of the land of Canaan in the 'Seed' of Abraham, who is Christ. (3) Contains the covenant of redemption. " (Scofield)
Covenant, Ex. 19:5-8ff.
This covenant puts Israel under a temporary, conditional relationship for blessing based on merit.
Palestinian (or Deuteronomic) Covenant, Dt. 28:63-68;
This covenant secures the final restoration and conversion of Israel. It gives the conditions for entering and possessing the Land.
Davidic Covenant, 2 Sam. 7:12-16.
"Summary of covenant in the OT: (1) The covenant assured to David an undying posterity, royalty, and kingdom in his Seed or Son, who is David's Son and God's Son. (2) That kingdom is to be established on the earth, is first Israelitish and Palestinian, and begins by the restoration of Judah and Israel to Palestine; it afterwards becomes universal." (Scofield)
New Covenant, Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13, etc.
This covenant rests upon Christ's sacrifice and is primarily for the nation Israel, although its benefits are broad enough to include the Church's blessing (cp. Gal. 3).
|GOVERNS||ELEMENTS OF COVENANT||DISPENSATION|
|EDENIC||*SRB p. 6
Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-17
|Adam and Eve||Unconditional||Life of man in innocency||Replenish
|ADAMIC||*SRB p. 9
*NSRB p. 7
|Adam||Unconditional||Life of fallen man||Serpent
*NSRB p. 7
Genesis 8:21-9:17, 24-27
|Noah and Sons||Unconditional||Life of man by man||Relation
No more floods
|HUMAN RULE (GOVERNMENT)|
*NSRB p. 25
|Abram||Unconditional||Abram and descendants||Israel
Abram a blessing
*NSRB p. 95
a. Will of God
b. Social Life
c. Religious Life
of Mosaic Law
*NSRB p. 251
Deuteronomy 28:63-68; 30:1-9
|Israel||Unconditional||Entering and possessing the land||
Return of Lord
Judgment on oppressors
*NSRB p. 365
2 Samuel 7:12-16
|David and descendants||Unconditional||Kingdom||House
Chastisement of disobedient
|LAW and KINGDOM|
*NSRB p. 1317
Jerimiah 31:31-34; Herews 8:6-13
|Israel -- then all believers in Christ||Unconditional||Church Age and Millennium||Better
Willing heart and mind
Oblivion of sins
Perpetuity - future covenant and blessing of Israel
|CHURCH and KINGDOM|
(5) A survey of the dispensations (or ages) ("dispensation" used in the general sense)
Under each dispensation the following points will be noted:
The key personage(s)
The extent of the period
The general Scripture portion
The characteristic or state of man during its course
The special responsibility instituted by God
The failure of man under the test
The resultant judgment
The gracious intervention of God
The dispensations in detail
The Dispensation of Innocency
(i) Key personage: Adam
(ii) Period: Creation to the temptation and fall
(iii) Scripture: Gen. 1:28-3:6
(iv) State of man: Ideal
Note the following details: He had an innocent nature; he had a beautiful environment; his temporal needs were met; he had God-given work to occupy his time; he had a God-given companion; he was forewarned; he enjoyed personal fellowship with God.
(v) Responsibility: He was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
(vi) Failure: Man disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit.
(vii) Judgment: Death and sin came into the world, upon Adam and all of his posterity. Man became corrupted with a sin nature. Man was expelled from the Garden of Eden.
(viii) Gracious intervention: The race was not wiped out. Adam and Eve clothed with coats of skin. A Redeemer was promised. Expulsion from the garden so man might not in his sinful state "take of the tree of life, and eat and live forever" (Gen. 3:22-24).
Dispensation of Conscience (or Moral Responsibility)
(i) Key personages: Adam and his children
(ii) Period: Fall to the Flood
(iii) Scripture: Gen. 3:7-8:14
(iv) State: Man was no longer innocent. He now had a sin nature. He also had a knowledge of good and evil--a conscience.
(v) Responsibility: Man was, guided by his conscience, to do what was good and right before God and approach God by means of a sacrifice.
(vi) Failure: Gross sin; violence
(vii) Judgment: The Flood
(viii) Gracious intervention: God did not make an end of man. Noah and his family were saved and through them there was a new beginning. God promised never to destroy the race through such a flood.
Dispensation of Human Government or Rule
(i) Key personage: Noah
(ii) Period: It began with the covenant after the flood. In relation to His working with a particular people, it may be said to have ended with the calling of Abraham. However, in relation to the Gentile world this dispensation continues.
(iii) Scripture: Gen. 8:15-11:26
(iv) State of man: Man has sin nature. Is answerable to God, but directly and indirectly (through his duty to men ruling over him).
(v) Responsibility: Man to rule man under God. Note Gen. 9:6.
(vi) Failure: Neglected to rule under God. Attempted to supplant God as at Babel. Human governments have never been able to legislate righteousness.
(vii) Judgment: Tower of Babel was a judgment upon that generation. Other governments have been and will be judged.
(viii) Gracious intervention: The call of Abraham
Dispensation of Promise
(i) Key personage: Abraham
(ii) Period: Call of Abraham to the giving of the Law at Sinai
(iii) Scripture: Gen. ll:27-Ex. 18:27
(iv) State of man: Man has sin nature. Some by God's grace are made the recipients of His marvelous promises.
(v) Responsibility: Believe in the promises and witness to one true God
(vi) Failure: Did not believe God nor witness to other nations
(vii) Judgment: Israel enslaved in Egypt
(viii) Gracious intervention: A redeemer raised up--Moses--who was to lead them back into the Promised Land.
Dispensation of the Law
(i) Key personage: Moses
(ii) Period: Giving of the Law at Sinai to Christ's death and resurrection)
(iii) Scripture: Exodus 19-Acts 1 (general limits). Occasional Scripture referring to other dispensations will be found in this section.
(iv) State of man: Man has sin nature. Israel now placed under God-given Law as a disciplinary child-trainer until the Seed (Christ) should come.
(v) Responsibility: Keep the Law
(vi) Failure: Israel broke the Law at every point, climaxed in the murder of Messiah.
(vii) Judgment: The division of the kingdom and the captivity of each part
(viii) Gracious intervention: Partial restoration of Israel to the Land. Also, death of Christ as bearing the curse of the broken Law.
The Dispensation of Church
(i) Key personage: Lord Jesus Christ
(ii) Period: Pentecost to the Rapture of Church (prior to 70th Week of Daniel)
(iii) Scripture: Acts 2-Rev. 3
(iv) State of man: Man has sin nature. He is declared to be lost and needing a Savior. He is saved by believing the gospel. To the believer is now given the Holy Spirit by Whose presence he is enabled to live worthy of God.
(v) Responsibility: Believe all that God has done through the Lord Jesus Christ and act on that basis (Eph. 2:8-10; Acts 16:30-31).
(vi) Failure: The great mass of humanity rejects Christ
(vii) Judgment: Unrepentant pagans and apostate Christendom left (by Rapture of true Church) to terrible judgments of 70th Week; unbelievers eventually are doomed, after resurrection, at the Great White Throne Judgment, at close of Kingdom Age.
(viii) Gracious intervention: The deliverance of the true Church by Christ's coming to the air
Dispensation of Tribulation (70th Week)
Many feel that the 70th Week of Daniel is to be viewed as the conclusion of Israel's age. Others, because the Law was done away at the cross, feel it is a separate age in itself. A detailed study of this period will be made in a later course (Eschatology).
If this be considered as the conclusion of Israel's age, which was interrupted because of the rejection of Christ by the nation of Israel at the first advent, it must be observed that the Law as the basic economy was terminated at the cross, and God instituted a new economy as the basis of His dealing.
If this period be viewed as a separate age, the following must be noted:
(i) Key personages: Beast and False Prophet
(ii) Period: The extent of the period is the 70th Week of the prophecy of Daniel 9 (that period from the rapture of the Church to meet the Lord in the air to the second advent of Christ to the earth).
(iii) Scripture: Portions found throughout all the Old Testament prophets and Rev. 4-19, especially.
(iv) State of man: The characteristic or state of man during its course will be judgment upon his sin.
(v) Responsibility: The special responsibility instituted by God will be response to the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom (Mt. 24:14).
(vi) Failure: The failure of man under the test is seen in the rejection of the witness of the 144, 000, the worship of the Beast, and the following of the False Prophet.
(vii) Judgment: The resultant judgment will be seen in the destruction of the Harlot system (Rev. 17-18), the overthrow and judgment of human governments (Rev. 19:20), and the overthrow of Gentile powers (Rev. 19:17-19),
(viii) Gracious intervention: God will deliver the saints by the visible return of Christ to the earth. The race is not blotted out (the days shortened) and many will be saved in the tribulation period (Rev. 7; Mt. 25:31-46).
(i) Key personage: The Lord Jesus Christ as King
(ii) Period: From the return of Christ to the earth till the end of the 1000 years' reign (Great White Throne Judgment)
(iii) Scripture: Extended portions from the OT, particularly the prophets. Also portions of the NT, particularly the latter part of Revelation (20:1-15; 21:9-22:5).
(iv) State of man: Man now ruled over by Christ, personally present. Satan is bound. Israel is head of the nations. Church reigns with Christ. Environment excellent.
(v) Responsibility: Live righteously under those conditions
(vi) Failure: When Satan is loosed for a little season, many will follow him in rebellion against Christ.
(vii) Judgment: Destruction of rebellers by fire from heaven (Rev. 20:9), followed by eternal judgment for the lost (Rev. 20:11-15).
(viii) Gracious intervention: The gracious intervention of God will have provided, by means of the dispensational dealings of God with man, every conceivable test to show man how completely he is lost and how he is absolutely without hope apart from God's grace. No gracious intervention, therefore, is recorded, unless the eternal separation of incorrigible wicked from Himself be so considered.
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