Monday, October 13, 2014

Literal or figurative?

In his new book on the Olivet Discourse, Robert Stein lays down an interesting hermeneutical principle:
One problem involves the issue of determining when we are dealing with something meant to be interpreted figuratively and when it is meant to be interpreted literally. In the OT examples given above, the cosmic language used should be interpreted figuratively; the material following, however, is best interpreted in a more literal manner: Isa 13:10 figuratively, but Isa 13:11 more literally; Jer 4:23-24 figuratively, but Jer 4:25-26 more literally; Ezk 32:7-8 figuratively, but Ezk 32:9-10 more literally; Amos 8:9 figuratively, but Amos 8:10-11 more literally; and Acts 2:19-20 figuratively, but Acts 2:18,21 more literally. Jesus, The Temple and the Coming Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13 (IVP 2014), 115.
To better evaluate his claim, I'm going to quote the passages, putting the allegedly more literal sentences in italics, to compare and/or contrast with the allegedly figurative sentences:
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
(Isa 13:10-11)

23 I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
    and to the heavens, and they had no light.
24 I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
    and all the hills moved to and fro.
25 I looked, and behold, there was no man,
    and all the birds of the air had fled.
26 I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
    and all its cities were laid in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
(Jer 4:23-26)

When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens
    and make their stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
    and the moon shall not give its light.
All the bright lights of heaven
    will I make dark over you,
    and put darkness on your land,
declares the Lord God.
“I will trouble the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries that you have not known. 10 I will make many peoples appalled at you, and the hair of their kings shall bristle with horror because of you, when I brandish my sword before them. They shall tremble every moment, every one for his own life, on the day of your downfall (Ezk 32:7-10).

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into mourning
    and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on every waist
    and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
    “when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.
(Amos 8:9-11)

18 even on my male servants and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
    before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
(Acts 2:18-21.

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