Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pictorial theology

For those of you who have thought that God doesn’t really expect you to study this protracted description (because, after all, it’s symbolic of something or other), here’s a great chance to correct the deficiency.

I am a big believer in the utility of Ezekiel’s Temple vision in Ezekiel 40-48 for dealing with those brethren who want to disbelieve what the Bible says while claiming to believe it.  I especially like to call out those who will not be honest enough just to state the obvious truth that they spiritualize the text (as in they claim a concrete depiction of a named entity should be thought of as a spiritual picture of a different concrete entity).  In Ezekiel 40ff. you cannot use the “Apocalyptic” card. 

Sometimes people reveal more about themselves than they intend. Henebury is such a proud, self-congratulatory bigot.

Moreover, one of the problems with his statement is the implication that he’d lose his faith if God didn’t fulfill the vision according to Henebury’s stipulative preconception. 

Therefore, those who cannot bring themselves to believe that Ezekiel is really referring to an actual physical Temple, whether they be dispensational or covenant theologians, should be pinned down on these chapters and asked to explain a). what they are supposed to really mean; b). what sort of hermeneutical practice is involved, and c). why on earth did God not simply say what He meant?

Surely these are good questions?

I tried in vain to deal with a gainsayer on these specific issues but to no avail.  He was more interested in telling me what it didn’t mean than what it did.

Henebury dissimulates about our conversation. But let’s respond one more time. And let’s take his questions in reverse order:

c) why on earth did God not simply say what He meant?

i) That’s not a real question. That’s a loaded question. An accusation couched as a faux question. A question that builds a tendentious premise into the formulation. As if those who dare to differ with Henebury don’t think God said what he meant.

ii) Moreover, Henebury’s way of framing the issue is foolish and silly. One might as well ask, Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 37:1-14, instead of that strange business about reassembling and reanimating skeletons? Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 29:3-4, instead of comparing Pharaoh to a Nile crocodile? Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 4:2, instead of directing the prophet to play with a clay model of Jerusalem (Ezk 4:1-2)?

b) what sort of hermeneutical practice is involved?

i) The grammatico-historical method. One element of that hermeneutic is audiencial meaning. Bible writers (and speakers) generally intend to be understandable to their immediate audience. So meaning is to that degree anchored in the potential understanding of the original audience. What the audience would be able to grasp.

ii) In the case of prophecy, a further distinction may be in order. The audience to whom the oracle is originally addressed may not be the same as the audience for whom the oracle is fulfilled. There can be a considerable time lapse. In that respect, a prophecy can be intended for a future audience.

How or when we apply that distinction depends on the context. Some oracles are short-term prophecies. Other oracles are long-term prophecies. For instance, Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the end of the exile is a fairly short-term prophecy (Jer 29:10).

a) what they are supposed to really mean?

Before we answer that question, we need to lay down some ground rules.

i) We need to distinguish between literal events and literal depictions. For instance, Ezk 37:1-14 depicts a literal event in symbolic terms. It depicts the restoration of Israel. That’s a literal event. But the depiction is symbolic.

ii) We need to distinguish between pictures and propositions. Images aren’t meaningful in the same way that sentences are meaningful. Unlike sentences, images don’t make assertions.

a) An image needn’t mean anything. For instance, an artist can paint a scene from his imagination. The scene doesn’t stand for anything. It doesn’t represent something he saw. Rather, he paints the imaginary scene because he finds it pleasant or interesting.

b) Of course, some images are referential. They stand for something else. Ezk 40-48 contains prophetic images.

c) Ezk 40-48 is an extended word-picture. A series of images. The images don’t contain dates. An image, all by itself, doesn’t point to the past, present, or future. An image, by itself, is chronologically indefinite or indeterminate.

Suppose you’re shown a picture of a river valley. You can’t tell from the picture when that was taken or where that was taken.

Ezk 40-48 is a record of what the prophet saw. There’s nothing in the imagery itself to say when it happens.

d) Of course, when imagery is embedded in a text, the text can supply a chronological or geographical frame of reference. A literary image signifies whatever the writer assigns to it. 

e) Ezekiel is addressing the exilic community. What could this mean to them? I think chaps. 40-48 present pictorially what Ezk 36:22-38 & 37:26-27 present more prosaically. Same message, different medium. Likewise, I think Ezk 37:1-14 and Ezk 40-48 are different imaginative depictions of the same reality.

The regathering of the diaspora.  Repatriation to the land of Israel. In that respect, the vision had reference to the near future.

f) However, because mere imagery isn’t time-indexed, the same images, or modified images, can refer to more than one event. Bear a one-to-many correspondence.

That’s why Revelation can see parts of Ezk 40-48 fulfilled in a different setting than the postexilic restoration of Israel. Here the themes of God’s compresence with his people, shalom, and the Davidic messiah, take place in the world to come. The consummation. In that respect, the vision had reference to the distant future.

John isn’t reinterpreting Ezekiel’s vision, for pictorial scenes have no intrinsic interpretation. What they represent is determined by the author. Their representative significance is assigned.

Of course, certain kinds of images are more naturally suited to represent certain kinds events than others. The historical referents aren’t imposed on the images arbitrarily.

g) From our position in church history, I think Ezk 40-48 is both past and future. To some extent the vision pictures the aftermath of the Babylonian exile. That lies behind us.

But to some extent the vision pictures the end of the church age, and the onset of the eternal age. That lies ahead of us.


  1. Hi . It would be nice if we can find out from you what does Ezek 40-48 does teaches verse by verse exegetically ? That is what the issue really comes down to. It is not enough to tell people what it does not teach. The question is what does it teach ? That is a big point of issue. This is like Arminians telling you or I what 2 Thess. 2:13-14 does not mean or teach instead of telling a person what it does teach exegetically. A great verse by verse exposition of Ezek. 40 to 48 is found in UNGER'S COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT by Dr. Merrill Unger. Much to my own surprise we are missing an exposition of Ezek 40 to 48 in John Calvin's commentary on that book. I do understand those 8 chapters requried alot of time and effort when dealing with it verse by verse but it does need to be done by you when you start telling others what it does not mean and yet provide no real answers to what it does teach.

    1. I don't have to reinvent the wheel. If you want a verse-by-verse commentary, try Daniel Block.

  2. Hi Steve. Thank you for your reply. I had forgotten to let you know that I am a regular visitor at TurretinFan's blogg called " Thoughts of Francis Turretin " . I often take part in the comments section in Articles there. I mostly take part in areas which defend the five Solas againist attacks from Roman Catholics. It was through TF's blog that I became familiar with your name due to articles written there that had made mention of you. May it be safe to say that you endorse the general exposition of Ezek 40- 48 thats offered by Daniel Block ? It is my opinion that Amillennialist and Postmillennialist have reinvented the wheel when it comes to Ezek 40-48 on at least on their various interpretations of that section which fails the test of true exegesis of the text of Scripture. I do grant that Ezek 40 to 48 has been a subject of debate within premillennialism too. Most hold it refers to a future temple with animal sacrifices and some who hold it is more or less a symbolic picture of worship during the millennial kingdom. While I personally hold that it refers to a future temple during the millennial kingdom I dont believe it is necessary for the broad issue of premillennialism. To me it is a matter of the proper exposition of Scripture on it. Most often attacks againist it being a future temple is made by telling a person what it does not mean and not telling the person on what it does. While many Amillennialist and Postmillennialist like to attack premillennialist in general when it comes to Ezek 40 to 48 but when all is said and done premillenialist at least do provide indepth verse by verse exposition of those chapters which is to me a step in the right direction with Dr. Merrill Unger in his commentary on the Old Testament as being an example. The usual arguments I get is that Ezek 40 to 48 contradicts the Epistle of Hebrews from most Amillennialist and Postmillennialist and never told by them on what the correct interpretation of it really is. I never claim infallibility like the so called Pope of the RCC. But when someone claims I am incorrect on an interpretation I would love to see the correct one at least provided to me by the person. Once again thank you for your recommendation of Daniel Block.

    1. How we approach the interpretation of Ezk 40-48 doesn't require verse-by-verse exegesis, for how we interpret various verses is, itself, dependent on our hermeneutical framework. That's a question of genre, literary conventions, the nature of visionary revelation, &c. Certain verses within Ezk 48-48 may provide clues, but every verse is not a hermeneutical clue. Rather, the author assumes a preunderstanding on the part of his target audience.

  3. I was taught by Reformed mentors in the faith to follow the literal grammatical historical method of interpretation of Scripture. I follow this through out the entire Bible or I try to. :) We can not invent one line of interpretation for one part of Scripture to use and then change to a different one when it comes to the area of Bible prophecy. Otherwise the Bible can be turned to mean anything from a subjective stand point. Those who deny Ezek 40 to 48 is a future temple with animal sacrifices basically violate the principle of the historical context of which that was written. People who first read this would have understood it as a future actual temple with animal sacrifices if we follow the historical context . If we followed your manner if it a person would never really know what Ezek 40 to 48 is teaching at all and left to the subjective perspective of the person rather than from an exegesis of it. When we formulate positions of passages it must be backed up by proper exposition or exegesis of Scripture otherwise we end up forcing ones own theological mode in to Scripture rather than drawing it from Scripture itself. Thats a real danger all too often found in cults like Jehovah Wittnesses like what they do in their translation of John 1:1 as an example. We all should avoid falling in to one error such as the late Dr. George Ladd who claimed that Isa. 53 in it's historical context was NOT a prophecy of Jesus Christ and was made in to one by the New Testament as an example of one wants to claim the NT is the interpreter of the OT or supreme over it or even reinterpretes the OT. Yet the OT and NT are equally Scripture and of equal authority one another.

    1. Unrelated to this post, but are you the same ChaferDTS who used to frequent AOL chat rooms back in the early 2000s?

  4. You’re ironically unaware of how much you are viewing Ezk 40-48 through the prism of the NT and your own position in church history. Put yourself in the situation of a Jewish exile in 6C BC Babylon. Imagine if you all you had to go by was Ezekiel, plus the OT canon up to that point. You didn’t have the NT. And you didn’t have any postexilic scriptures.

    Based on that frame of reference, how would you conclude that this refers to a temple that won’t be built for at least 2500 years, during the church age, in-between the binding and loosing of Satan?

    Feel free to show me how you derive that interpretation from the historical context, given the epistemic perspective of the original audience.

    1. First, the OT prophecy made no specific mention of the period of time between the first and 2nd coming of Jesus Christ. Old Testament prophecy had the fact that Jesus was to die on the cross and a future kingdom reign of Christ in Israel over the whole earth and that gentiles during it would be blessed along with Israel. Basically God's present work in the dispensation of the grace of God is not predicted in the Old Testament. God kept this knowledge of it to himself until it was revealed to the apostles , NT prophets and Paul based on Eph. 3:1-6. This is disclosed new information given to them that was hidden in the Old Testament. The premillennial position teaches that Satan is not presently binded at all but will be during the millennial reign of christ on the earth which starts after the second coming of Christ ( Matt. 25:31-34; Rev. 20:1-3 ) . Binding and loosing is related to the preaching of the Gospel to the lost done by Peter and the apostles ( Matt. 16:18-19; Acts 2 ) . There is no binding of looseing of Satan in those words anywhere at all. It strictly speaking is the opening of the preaching of the Gospels to the Jews and then later on to the gentiles in the book of Acts. Satan is very active in the world today. Satan blinds all the unregenerate to the Gospel and tempts Christians today to sin and uses false teachers to preach another gospel and so forth. Far from Satan being bounded on the cross Satan is VERY active. Did Total Depravity suddenly cease as a result of the cross ? I dont think so. The premillennial position holds that the temple will be build during the Millennial Kingdom reign of Christ on the earth and not during the church age. Steve are you trying to use the " historical argument " by your statement " your own position in church history " ? If you are commiting a logical fallacy . I am sure you must know that. Even so I like many of the early church fathers held to a millennial kingdom reign of Christ on the earth for 1,000 years in contrast to many of the Reformers who held to Amillennialism and in general historicalism. Steve the fact is the Old Testament when still being written at the time Ezek was written. Daniel was aware of that book and of each other. Ezek did have Isa and Daniel and would therefore be away of a future reign of the Messiah on the earth. What a person would know is that when it was written that Ezek 40-48 was in the future in which the Messiah would be with them physically in Israel in the temple and performing animal sacrifices. They also know this temple had NOT YET been built at all. Not unless there was errors regarding to it's measurements of which are stated in those chapters and the division of the land to the people. They knew only the Messiah would die and then physically reign on the earth. It is on this basis it is a passage that is connected to the millennial kingdom and not the church. Also based on history we see this temple stated in Ezek 40 to 48 has never been built at all. The fact it list measurements regarding the time, land divisions and locations and animal sacricies with actual people shows this to be a factual literal thing that will take place. Also in other passages in other books of the Old Testament which likewise teaches animal sacrifices during this reign of the Messiah on the earth. We are to use the literal grammatial historical method which the basic priciples as following :

    2. Rule of Interpretation of the Scriptures:

      1 ) Take the Bible literally where it is at all possible; if symbolic, figurative, or typical language is used, then look for the literal truth it intends to convey.

      2 ) Interpret what is implied by what is specifically taught in Scripture.

      3 ) Interpret the Scriptures in it's historical context.

      4 ) Check your findings by comparing it to Commentators of the Scriptures and consult Old Testement Hebrew and New Testement Greek Scholars.

      Yet when it comes to passages like Ezek 40-48 and other passages concerning the millennial reign of Christ on the earth in OT prophecy Dr. Charles Hodge wrote " The literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies relating to the restoration of Israel and the future kingdom of Christ, cannot by possibility be carried out; and if abandoned in one point, it cannot be pressed on regard to others " ( Dr. Charles Hodge Systematic Theology II, pg. 809 ) . In otherwords, your own preconcieved theology dicates to you on when to follow the literal interpretation when if carried out contradicts your own subjective ideas. This is clearly seen that Dr. Charles Hodge in Volume 1 in pages 187 to 188 contradicted himself on his own rules of interpretation of Scripture. I considered his rules as valid , reasonable and sound yet Hodge threw it out the windown when it came to eschatology. I follow the literal interpretation based on the fact that Ezek is written in human language and is intended to be read and understood by the people of God as a means of communicating with us what he wants us to know in the same manner of which I read Genesis 1 to 2 on the account of creation. Simple human language as properly defined. The best way to settle this issue is through a verse by verse detailed exegesis of Ezek 40 to 48. In Ezek. 40:5 for example he claims to have seen a temple are and yet you and Amillennialist tell us that Ezekial did not. If he saw it then all of this has meaning of the information we are being told through out it. Basically you and Amillennialist are not telling anyone on what all these verses are teaching or telling us. Thus no real exegesis is being given. We are only told its symbolic of the church and nothing of the specific details even though it has alot of it. By the way, I am studied in church history. After all I have read and studied the early church father writings and also church history works such as HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH 8 Volumes by Philp Schaff in book form. Steve do you hold to baptismal regeneration like several early church father who cited John 3 as teaching it ? Well if you dont why not since they taught it ? You see while they taught that error it is still incorrect as John 3 does not teach baptismal regeneration regardless of the fact that baptismal regeneration is the most early recorded view of John 3. We must allow the church or the people of God to formulate theologically mature conclusions on doctrines regardless of how long it takes in church history for it to happen as long as it is biblically based on proper exegesis.