Monday, June 09, 2014

Photographic realism

This is a sequel to my earlier post:
From my reading, there is, in classical dispensationalism, a strong correlation between literal interpretation and the literal fulfillment of prophecy. This stands in contrast to "spiritualizing" or allegorizing the prophetic referent. For instance, that references to "Israel" necessarily mean ethnic Israel, rather than the church.

Related to this is the view that there's a one-to-one correspondence between what a prophecy means and what it points to. Single sense>single referent. 

By contrast, progressive dispensationalists allow for multiple referents:

How Geisler et al. read narrative coheres with how they read prophecy. They have (at least in theory) a consistent hermeneutic, based on their definition of what constitutes a true account of events. They don't distinguish the narrative genre from the prophetic genre in that respect. The same rules apply to both.

The strong correlation between literal interpretation and literal fulfillment in turn conditions classic dispensationalists to define truth in terms of literality. A true historical description is a literal description. Representational (i.e. photographic realism). Take what Farnell considers to be violations of inerrancy:

2. The Commissioning of the Twelve in Matthew 10 is a group of instructions compiled on different occasions and organized by the author of Matthew. It was not spoken of by Jesus on a single occasion as presented. 
3. The parables of Matthew 13 and Mark 4 are collections (i.e., anthologies) that Jesus uttered on different occasions rather than on a single occasion as the author of Matthew presented. 
4. The Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 did not happen in its entirety as is presented in Matthew. The writers artificially created this sermon and changed elements of it.

The assumption here is that in order to be a true account or true report, a Gospel must record events such that, if the reader went back in time, he'd see and hear it as the Gospel describes it. There can be gaps in the account. The reader might see and hear more than what he finds in the account. But the narrative description directly corresponds to what happened as it happened. It may be incomplete, but what a time-traveler would see and hear would directly correspond to the narrative as it stands (making allowance for gaps). 

On this view, harmonizing the Gospels involves intercalating the variants. Lining up two or more parallel accounts by determining what incident in one account occurred before or after an incident in the other account. What statement in one account was spoken before or after a statement in the other account. 

Like arranging snapshots into a chronological series of still images which track the original order. Indeed, Geisler uses that metaphor:

…the Gospel record is more like a series of snapshots than it is like different portraits.   However, on occasion the snapshots are at different angles with different lighting or through different lenses…Sometimes there is a topical rearrangement of the snapshots in order to fit the theme of the Gospel writer.

That definition or standard of historical truth seems to be conditioned by a literal hermeneutic and literal view of fulfillment. The point is not to deny that some or many prophecies are literally fulfilled, or that a literal interpretation is often correct. Rather, the point is when, in principle, this must be the way it is. Otherwise, the representation is false. It's my impression that progressive dispensationalists reject that a priori standard. 

If classical dispensationalism (in contrast to progressive dispensationalism) predisposes adherents to define inerrancy in terms of photographical realism, then that standard will apply across genres (e.g. prophecy, historical narrative), even though it has its impetus in their view of prophetic fulfillment.

By the same token, their targets will be broader than progressive dispensational opponents, but the classical/progressive dispensational debate will still be the epicenter of that wider offensive. 


  1. Just as a reference point are defining classical dispensationalism as that teaching which stretches from Darby to Ryrie or are you speaking of just from Ryrie to current.

    1. I'm defining classical dispensationalism, both in reference to past exponents (e.g. Charles Lee Feinberg) as well as current exponents who still represent that outlook (e.g. Robert Thomas).