Pre-Tribulation “Apostasy” as ‘Rapture’?

I recall my reaction when I first heard it. Confused and in a temporary state of cognitive dissonance, I thought to myself, “It can’t mean THAT!” I may have even said it aloud.

I was alone, driving my car, listening to Dr. J. Vernon McGee, whom I very much enjoy generally. I find his slow, Southern drawl aurally appealing, and his occasional dry humor sometimes makes me laugh. But, more importantly, his core doctrinal beliefs are orthodox. Yet here he was making statements that raised my eyebrows.

He was working through 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, which was and is of particular interest to me. When he came to the words “falling away” (KJV) in verse 3 (other translations read “apostasy”, “rebellion”), he claimed this meant not merely apostasy in the sense of renouncing faith, but also “the departure of the true Church”, aka the “Rapture” of the Church. In other words, Dr. McGee asserted that the Greek word apostasia meant both here. Upon reflection I thought, “That sure extracts a lot of meaning from one word!”1

Below you can hear his explanation (timestamped at the appropriate spot):

At present I cannot recall if it was in response to the above2 or if I had a different motivation, but I downloaded a pdf titled “Who Is Antichirst?” from the Thru the Bible website, which contains similar verbiage.3 In its text McGee relates how, upon doing an independent word study, he concluded (just as above) that the Greek term apostasia means both “Rapture” and “falling away” in this context:

. . . The root word means “departure” or “removal from.” And the verb means “to remove, to depart, to leave.” It comes from two words: histēmi, meaning “to stand,” and apo, meaning “away from.” . . . Apostates, we understand today, are men who held the truth at one time . . . and now they apo-histēmi, they stand away from it.4

So far, so good.5 However, it’s the next portion that goes beyond the typical understanding of the word. McGee continues to focus on “departure”, but he appends an entirely new meaning to the definition he had just provided:

. . . What departure is [Paul] talking about? Well, the same departure he talked about in his first epistle to the Thessalonians. That’s the Rapture of the church . . .6

McGee then references 1Thess 4:16-17. Yet there Paul uses a different word—anistēmi (verb, ana + histēmi; noun is anastasis), as opposed to apostasia. They are close, but they are not the same word. Lewis Sperry Chafer notes the difference:

Note: The word “Rapture” does not occur in Scripture. The Greek word associated with the Rapture of the Church is anastasis, better translated “resurrection.”7

This is a distinction with a difference. A big one. The prefixed preposition ana means “up”, as opposed to apo, which means “from” (as found above in 2Thess 2:3).

Nevertheless, Dr. McGee specifies two “departures”—to occur one after the other—for this one word in this specific context:

1. The true church is to the leave the earth;

2. The professing church will just move away from the truth.8

Now, I am one who searches for multivalence (multiple meanings, paranomasia) in words. Such literary devices add richness. But with McGee’s explanation of two events, one preceding and then directly impacting the other, this hardly seems plausible here. In other words, even if the word apostasia could be construed as having both meanings, Paul would have had to use it twice, in succession, in order to get his point across. Even so, Paul would much more likely have chosen anastasia instead of apostasia for the first usage (and this would have provided a fantastic opportunity to rhyme with synonyms—Paul was fond of using various poetic devices for effect).

Disappointingly, this appears as though it could be a case of arguing from a predisposed theological position (eisegesis) rather than a careful interpretation of the text (exegesis).

To be clear, I’m not suggesting the reader stop (or never start) listening to Thru the Bible radio broadcasts. On the contrary, I find them edifying. As I stated above, McGee’s doctrinal stances are orthodox. And my criticism here is regarding an interpretation of a secondary doctrine (eschatology, specifically, the ‘Rapture’).9

None are perfect. And this is why we should always read with a critical eye and listen with a critical ear.

_________________

1 I am now reminded of D. A. Carson’s excellent Exegetical Fallacies (2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996]), in which the author explains Unwarranted adoption of a semantic field (pp 60-61): “The fallacy in this instance lies in the supposition that the meaning of a word in a specific context is much broader than the context itself allows and may bring with it the word’s entire semantic range” (p 60). However, the specific issue here is slightly different in that McGee is importing an additional meaning foreign to New Testament and contemporaneous usage. This will be discussed further below.

2 At one time I uncritically accepted the “pre-tribulation ‘Rapture’” view. After studying the doctrine at some length, I have since rejected that position.

3 I can no longer find the link to this download. Included on the title page of my “Who is Antichrist” print-out: “This message was originally published in 1973, later fell out of print, and then was revised in 2006 for online publication. The message is also included in the hardback book, J. Vernon McGee on Prophecy, copyright 1993 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.” In keeping with the site’s Copyright Policy, I hereby include the following: “Who is Antichrist”, by Dr. J. Vernon McGee © Thru the Bible Radio Network, www.ttb.org.

4 “Who is Antichrist”, p 9. Note: though the original text does not place the accent over the “e” in “histēmi”, I added it here, since this is the usual transliteration for the η (eta), in order to prevent confusion with the ε (epsilon).

5 Though I have seen this sort of thing quite often in the technical literature, I might question the methodology in looking to an associated verb form (histēmi, apo + histēmi) when the text contains a noun form instead (apostasia). This may provide helpful background at times, but it seems best to focus primarily on the noun form when the text in question contains a noun. See my comment at note 7.

6 “Who is Antichrist”, p 9.

7 From the website “Chafer Theological Seminary”, chafer.edu: Glossary: “R”, as accessed 07/04/2021. Though Paul uses the verb form of this word in 1Thess 4:14 and 16, he tends to prefer egeirō (“raise”) when otherwise using a verb referring to our future resurrection; however, when using a noun, he favors anastasis. When referring to the ‘Rapture’ event itself, most point to the verb harpagēsometha (from harpazō), “caught up”, in 1Thess 4:17, though the timing of this event relative to the Tribulation period or “Day of the Lord”, is hotly debated.

8 “Who is Antichrist”, p 9.

9 Though beyond the scope of this present article, it can be argued—and I would—that the apostasia is not to be split from the revealing of the “man of sin”. In other words, the two refer to the same thing; that is, the apostasia reveals the identity of the “man of sin”. If this is indeed the case, then this context does not refer to Christians “falling away”, apostatizing, from the faith.

The Holy Spirit as “Restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2?

(In this post I had to go into the weeds a bit. My goal is to have trimmed them to a level the reader can see the path I made—to allow the reader to see the forest beyond the weeds. I hope I’ve achieved it.)

Quite a few issues hinder identifying “the restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and 2:7. A fair number of theologians argue for the Holy Spirit in these two verses. And some of these do so based on a questionable pronoun argument. From this shaky foundation the Holy Spirit is imported into the context. This then is used by some as support for the pre-tribulation “Rapture” doctrine.

One shaky foundation upon another.

The Dubious Pronoun Argument

I’ve touched on this dubious pronoun argument elsewhere (Misgendering the Spirit, which has a basis in Another Paraclete?). To briefly identify the issue:

The Greek word for “Spirit” is pneuma, which is neuter in grammatical gender. Because the term is neuter, a literal English translation of the pronouns substituted for pneuma would be “it” or “which” (instead of the personal “whom”). For example, in Acts 5:32, we would translate “we are His witnesses of these words, and so is the Holy Spirit (pneuma), which God gave to those obeying Him [Jesus].” And some deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit simply because pneuma is neuter. But this erroneously imposes English grammar notions upon the Greek.

Some, accepting this error, attempt to counter it by construing (erroneously) a different way to promote the personhood of the Spirit. In John 14:16—16:15 the Holy Spirit is also called another “paraclete” (paraklētos), which is masculine in grammatical gender. In addition, there are a number of masculine pronouns throughout this section. Consequently, some have mistakenly assumed that at least some of these masculine pronouns refer back to pneuma instead of “paraclete”, thus (also erroneously) implying personhood. But it is context that establishes personhood—not pronouns. Moreover, these masculine pronouns all refer back to “paraclete” or to a masculine pronoun substituting for “paraclete”.

An analogy will illustrate the problem with this argument. The term logos, “word”, is a grammatically masculine noun. If we impose English grammar rules upon the Greek here, then every occurrence of logos, would be translated “he” or “him”. This works fine for “the Word” as the pre-incarnate Jesus in John 1:1-14. But it doesn’t work in Mark 4:16, which would be “…whenever they hear the word (ho logos) they immediately receive him (autos) with joy.” This context is about the Gospel message, which should more properly be “it” (not “him”) in English.

The 1977 movie The Car provides a different angle. While the noun “car” in English is “it”—a thing—The Car as portrayed in the movie is a sentient, willful being. So, does The Car have personhood? The Car, which self-drives, certainly has a mind of its own—even mockingly ‘laughing’ via the car horn.1 Or should we instead say, ‘The Car, who self-drives, certainly has a mind of his own’? ‘A mind of her own’? Do pronouns—whichever we apply—affect the consciousness, the volition of The Car in the movie?

Also consider the many ships named after humans (Queen Elizabeth II; Edmund Fitzgerald). Though we may call them individually “she” or “he” according to name, each is still “it” in English. Unless fictionally personalized as in The Car, none are sentient beings.

Grammar Limits Importing the Holy Spirit into 2 Thessalonians

Those relying on the pronoun argument for 2 Thessalonians 2 do so because there are two different grammatical genders used for “the restrainer”. One is neuter (2:6: to katechon), the other masculine (2:7: ho katechōn). To account for this, Robert L. Thomas argues:

To one familiar with Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse, as Paul undoubtedly was, fluctuation between neuter and masculine recalls how the Holy Spirit is referred to. Either gender is appropriate, depending on whether the speaker (or writer) thinks of natural agreement (masculine because of the Spirit’s personality [Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13—14; cf. Robertson, Grammar of the New Testament, 708-9]) or grammatical (neuter because of the noun pneuma…). This identification of the restainer…is most appealing.2

To support his stance, Thomas sources Robertson’s respected grammar. We will critique Robertson’s argument—and by extension Thomas’—with respect to the verses in John after first defining and analyzing “natural [gender] agreement” elsewhere.

“Natural gender” is such that a word’s grammatical gender correlates to the sex/gender inherent in the person the word is referencing. For example, “he” is masculine in grammatical gender, correlating to a male. “Stewardess” implies a woman. Etc.

Below we will challenge the above claim that the Holy Spirit’s “natural” gender is “masculine because of the Spirit’s personality” (personhood).

Defining “Natural [Gender] Agreement”

“Natural [gender] agreement” occurs when a particular word’s gender correlates to the biological sex/gender of the person it directly refers to (“natural gender”) in distinction from the grammatical gender of its antecedent (preceding reference)—the particular word it refers back to. Stated another way, instead of agreeing in grammatical gender with its previous reference, the word agrees with the biological sex/gender of the person (“natural gender”) referred to.

An analogy from English should clarify:

A1: Though the player grew weary, the athlete was spurred on by the crowd.
B1: Though the player grew weary, she was spurred on by the crowd.

The antecedent (preceding reference) in each sentence is the player. In A1 the athlete is unspecified as to gender, just like its antecedent. For the sake of this example, we’ll call both neuter in grammatical gender.  In A1 there is the usual grammatical gender agreement (the playerthe athlete). In B1 the natural gender of the person (female/feminine, she) to whom the word refers is used instead of one matching the grammatical gender (neuter) of its antecedent. In Greek, this dissimilarity would be a case of applying natural gender agreement in place of grammatical gender agreement—a grammatical mismatch.

This sort of thing is also called “construction according to sense”, or constructio ad sensum.

From Mark’s Gospel, Robertson finds an example of natural gender agreement over the grammatical:

In Mk. 5:41 αὐτῇ [autē̦, her] follows the natural gender of παιδίον [paidion, child] rather than the grammatical.3

The applicable portion of the verse is “Taking the child (paidion, neuter) by the hand, He said to her (autē̦, feminine)…” Alternatively, Mark could have chosen the neuter form of the pronoun (autō̦4) for grammatical gender agreement between the two words. By choosing “her” (autē̦), he followed “natural gender” instead. Mark went from the general “child” (paidion, neuter) to the more specific “her” (autē̦, feminine)—a grammatical mismatch.

Let’s look more closely at this. In the larger context, Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter. The feminine thygatēr, “daughter”, is used for her in 5:35. Thus, we already knew the child is female rather than male. But the intervening references, up to and including 5:41 (39, 40, 41), all use the more general neuter paidion, “child” as a synonym. Here is the chain of referents:

thygatēr (5:35) > paidion (5:39) > paidion, paidion (5:40) > paidion (5:41) > autē (5:41)
daughter (5:35) > child (5:39) > child, child (5:40) > child (5:41) > her (5:41)

Thus, while 5:41 clearly is an instance of “natural [gender] agreement” over grammatical agreement, the natural gender is determinable by the larger context by a preceding reference.5

An Evil Pneuma Has Masculine “Natural Gender”?

For our purposes here, Mark 9:20 provides a more fitting example. Its context contains “spirit”, pneuma. Robertson opines that this is another example of natural gender usage:

“…surely this is…treating πνεῦμα [pneuma] as masculine (natural gender).”6

But what makes a malevolent spirit inherently masculine in “natural gender”? Is a spirit male?7 Let’s scrutinize.

In the larger context beginning at Mark 9:17, a particular pneuma possesses a man’s son, preventing him from speaking. In 9:18 a neuter pronoun appropriately correlates to pneuma, its antecedent: “…I asked your disciples to cast it (auto) out…”. Correspondingly, in 9:28 the disciples asked Jesus, “Why weren’t we able to cast it (auto) out?”

Yet 9:20 causes a bit of confusion. It contains four different uses of the masculine ‘personal’ pronoun (auton, “him”). Related to this is a grammatical anomaly: the masculine pronoun encoded in the participle “saw” (he). This will take a bit to sort out:

ēnegkan auton pros auton. kai idōn auton to pneuma euthys synesparaxen auton
They-brought him to Him. And [when] he-saw Him, the spirit immediately convulsed him…
They-brought the son to Jesus. And when he-saw Jesus, the spirit promptly convulsed the son…

The proper correspondent for the masculine “he-saw” in this sentence would be “the spirit” (to pneuma). But, of course, pneuma is neuter instead of masculine.8 The late Rodney Decker explains: “As an adverbial participle idōn [he-saw] should agree [in gender] with the subject of the main verb (pneuma), but this is constructio ad sensum.”9 Decker then refers to Ezra Gould, whom I’ll quote in larger context:

[S]ince the action of the verb [convulsed] belongs to the spirit, and is occasioned by the action denoted by the participle [saw], it would be the spirit which is described as having seen Jesus. But [the spirit] does this with the eyes of [the son], and hence the masculine form of the participle.

In all these stories [exorcisms], the man and the evil spirit get mixed up in this way. The outward acts belong to the man, but the informing spirit is sometimes that of the man, and sometimes the evil spirit.10

In other words, though there is a grammatical gender mismatch, Gould thinks this is due to the mixing of the spirit (neuter) and the boy (masculine). Since the spirit (pneuma, neuter) acts through the son (huios, masculine), a masculine-gendered participle represents the son as the spirit’s ocular vehicle here. The possessing spirit sees through the eyes of the possessed son.

Sometimes the person acts apart from the demon. Sometimes the demon acts through the person. From the evidence thus far, one could consider this a case of “natural gender” agreement (constructio ad sensum) correlated to the son (son/spirit), not the spirit.

Mark 1:23-26 provides a good comparison. The translation below is as ‘literal’ (formally equivalent) as possible. Subscripted brackets identify grammatical number (singular[sg] or plural[pl]) and gender (masculine[ms] or neuter[nt]) where necessary for analysis:

1:23 Suddenly, in their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit! He cried-out, 24 saying[ms sg], “What is it between You and us[pl], Jesus the Nazarene? Have You come to ruin us[pl]? I-know[sg] who You are: The Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him/it[ms/nt sg] [autō̦], saying, “You[sg] be-quiet and you[sg] come-out of-him [autou]!” 26 And the unclean spirit, [it-]violently-convulsing[nt sg] him and [it-]shouting[nt sg] with a loud voice, came-out of-him [autou].

Like 9:20 above, the possessing pneuma acts through its chosen vessel. This is grammatically shown by Mark’s use of the masculine singular “he”, instead of the neuter in 1:23/24. Note that the spirit self-references with the plural “us” once each in the two questions posed. Yet when the unclean spirit reveals that it knows Jesus’ identity, it reverts back to the singular (I-know)!11 In 1:25 Jesus addresses the pneuma either (a) through the man [him, ms], or (b) directly [it, nt], in commanding exorcism. The better of the two would be (b), for it makes the most sense in this context (see next paragraph). In this way, the pronoun refers to the spirit in distinction from its host.12 And finally, in 1:26 the unclean spirit (nt sg) comes out of the man (autou), freeing him.13

Though there are a number of interpretive options, we should reject any notions that the plural indicates more than one spirit possessing the man.14 Jesus specifically exorcised only one demon. In view of the grammatical evidence of 9:20, at minimum we should harmonize the plural (1:24) with the masculine singular “he”, such that we construe the plural “us” to include the possessed man along with the unclean spirit.15 Thus, the “I” in 1:24 comes from the spirit, which Jesus rebukes in 1:25. Surely the possessing spirit is concerned Jesus has come to exorcise him it from his its chosen host.16 And Jesus promptly does.

If we understand the grammatical anomaly of 9:20 through the contextual lens of the grammar in 1:23-26, Gould’s above comments fall right into line.

In the account of “Legion” in Mark 5 we find a similar thing. Once the man with an unclean spirit is introduced (5:2), there seems to be no differentiation between the acts of the man and the acts of the possessing spirit. These verses, again, appear to reflect the spirit’s actions through the man:

5:6 Seeing[ms sg] Jesus from afar, he-ran and bowed down to-him. 7 In a loud voice he-was-crying-out, saying[ms sg], “What is between me and You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore you by God: Don’t torment me!” 8 For [Jesus]-had-said to-him/it[ms/nt sg], “You-come-out[sg] of the man unclean spirit!” 9 And [Jesus]-had-asked him[ms sg], “What is your name?” He-replied[sg] to-Him[Jesus], “Legion is my[sg] name[sg], for we-are[pl] many.” 10 Then he/it-began-begging[sg] Him further that [Jesus] would not send them[nt pl] out of the region.

11 Nearby, on the hillside, was a large herd of pigs grazing. 12 So they-began-begging[pl] Him, saying[ms pl], “Send[pl] us[pl] into the pigs so that we-may-enter[pl] them!” 13 And [Jesus]-permitted them[nt pl]. So, after coming-out[nt pl], the unclean spirits entered[pl] into the pigs; and, the herd of pigs—about two-thousand—rushed down the steep bank into the lake. And they were drowned in the lake.

Though the actor in 5:6 is the man, in reality it is the possessing spirit acting through the man, as evidenced by its words in 5:7. In 5:8 where Jesus starts exorcising the spirit through the possessed man, the Gospel writer uses a pronoun (autō̦) that could be either masculine or neuter. We might expect neuter in order to grammatically agree with pneuma, as found at the end of this verse.17 This would concur with the usage in 1:25-26. And this seems the best understanding here.

In 5:9 Mark records Jesus having asked his (auton, ms) name—apparently to the spirit through the man—and the unclean spirit replied, “My name is ’Legion’, for we are many.” This plurality of unclean spirits then (5:10) implores Jesus to not send them (auta, nt pl) away.18 At first blush the masculine singular at the beginning of 5:10 appears to contradict the analysis above; however, the narrator is describing the singular possessed man’s actions spoken by the one spirit representing them all. It is paralleled with 5:9 in that the narrator records a singular spirit (through the man) explaining its collective existence in the man (“Legion”).

Next, in 5:12 Mark records things from the plurality of spirit’s perspective (“They began begging”). Once again the Gospel writer prefaces their statement with a masculine participle (“saying”), but this time he uses the plural to signify the plurality of demons speaking through the man.19 Evidence to support this position finds itself in the next verse: “Jesus permits them” (nt pl). Further, we can deduce that when the spirit is self-referencing, the neuter should be understood (“me” and “I” in 5:7; “my” and “we” in 5:9; “us” and “we” in 5:12). This also assists in confirming the analysis above that the sequence “us”, “us”, “I” in 1:24 refers to the pneuma/possessed man in the “us” as compared to the pneuma only in the “I”.

When prefacing direct speech—except before words commanding exorcism—Mark uses the masculine to indicate pneuma/possessed person. By contrast, in narration describing the scene the Gospel writer uses, or implies, the neuter (5:10, 12, 13), to distinguish the spirit(s) from the possessed man.

Therefore, all the above best explains the example in 9:20 above. In narration, acts of the pneuma independent of the possessed person are expressed by the neuter. And the neuter is used when the spirit is referenced by another in distinction from the possessed person (9:18, 28). Therefore, it could well be argued that grammatical gender and “natural gender” are the same for pneumaneuter. Or, perhaps better, that a pneuma does not have “natural gender” at all. To add strength to this position, we’ll look at one final account of demon possession.

The possessed slave-girl in Acts 16:16-18 provides a great comparison and contrast.20 Luke records the girl as speaking what are obviously words coming from the possessing spirit (16:17).21 The gender of both the pronoun (hautē, “This one” [slave-girl]) and the participle preceding the speech (legousa, “[she]-was-saying”) is feminine, but the words certainly originate from the pneuma. In other words, the feminine grammatical gender is apparently due to the biological sex/gender of the spirit’s mouthpiece—its verbalizing vehicle.

Thus, harmonizing these accounts with respect to gender—and applying a bit of Occam’s razor—one can make a strong argument that none of these accounts of spirits/demons contain examples of “natural gender” as pertaining to pneuma. That is, pneuma remains neuter. When a masculine or feminine referent is seemingly used for pneuma this merely indicates the biological sex of the possessed person. These examples also cast doubt on any notions of “natural gender” for spirit beings generally. I think we must be very careful not to impose human gender ideas upon spirit beings.

The Holy Spirit Has Masculine “Natural Gender”?

Finally, we shall directly engage Robertson’s argument that the Holy Spirit has implied masculine “natural gender”. He asserts, “Two passages in John call for remark, inasmuch as they bear on the personality of the Holy Spirit.”22 The first part refers to 14:26, the second 16:13. In the following we shall see that English grammar notions inform part of his argument on the Greek, which is then contended to indicate the Spirit’s personhood (“personality”).

This is the first part of the grammarian’s argument (Greek replaced with English transliteration):

In 14:26…ho de paraklētos, to pneuma to hagion, ho pempsei ho patēr en tō̧ onomati mou, ekeinos hymas didaxei, the relative [pronoun] ho follows the grammatical gender of pneuma. Ekeinos (“That One”), however, skips over pneuma and reverts to the gender of paraklētos.23

Essentially, he is correct, which I will unpack below. First, here’s biblical context for his argument:

14:26 But the paraklētos[ms]—the Holy Spirit[nt], Which[nt] the Father will send in My name—That One[ms] will teach you all things, and remind you of everything I told you.

Robertson is right: “That One” skips over “the Holy Spirit” to agree in gender with paraklētos (advocate, counselor, helper, comforter). This is precisely why I prefer to separate the middle clause by em dashes (—). The neuter relative pronoun “Which” (hos) correlates to “Spirit” (pneuma), while the masculine demonstrative pronoun (ekeinos) “That One” refers to paraklētos. This is grammatical agreement. There is no reason to press this further. However, Robertson uses this as background for the second part of his argument:

In 16:13 a more striking example occurs, hotan de elthȩ̄ ekeinos, to pneuma tēs alētheias. Here one has to go back six lines to ekeinos again and seven to paraklētos. It is more evident therefore in this passage that John is insisting on the personality [personhood] of the Holy Spirit, when the grammatical gender so easily called for ekeino[nt] [ED: nt instead of ms].24

With respect to the gargantuan effort evident in Robertson’s mammoth grammar, his conclusion “when the grammatical gender so easily called for ekeino [nt]” is a non sequitur. The chain of referents follows:

paraklētos (16:7) > ekeinos (16:8) > ekeinos (16:13)
paraklētos (16:7) > That One (16:8) > That One (16:13)

After providing a brief synopsis of things to come (16:1-6), Jesus again mentions the paraklētos in this discourse (16:7). “That One” in 16:8 directly refers to paraklētos. The verses following this pronoun (16:9, 10, 11) detail functions of paraklētos; so, the same subject is assumed. 16:12 provides a transition to the next thought. There are neither intervening occurrences of pneuma nor intervening neuter pronouns. Thus, there is no basis to assume a neuter would have been “so easily called for” in place of “That One” in 16:13. In fact, the grammar is against it. Consequently, “That One” in 16:13 directly refers to “That One” in 16:8, which in turn directly refers to paraklētos. Therefore, this is not an implied instance of “natural gender” usage, which would somehow go towards supporting “the personality [personhood] of the Holy Spirit”.

Note that Thomas extends his argument a bit further (“Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13—14”). We’ll engage the last reference first, since it is a direct extension of Robertson’s with respect to 16:13. Here’s the text in English:

16:13 But when That One comes—the Spirit of truthHe/It-will-guide you into all truth, for He/It will not speak on His/Its own[ms/nt], but He/It-will-speak only what He/Ithears. And He/It-will disclose to you things yet to come. 14 That One[ms] will bring glory to Me[ms/nt], because He/Itwill receive from Me and disclose it to you.

Since Thomas does not develop his argument—in all fairness, his commentary is part of a larger volume, so was necessarily limited—I can only speculate. Thus, I don’t think it very profitable to ‘read his mind’, so to speak. However, to reduce this down to its simplest, there is ambiguity as to whether the verbiage after “the Spirit of truth” pertains to “the Spirit of truth” or, alternatively, to “That One” (paraklētos). If the former is assumed, then the second em dash should be placed at the end of 16:13. But this doesn’t seem to do justice to the context. In any case, with the presence of “That One” (ms) at the beginning of 16:14, it is clear this pronoun is intended to agree with “That One” in 16:13.

But surely if this were integral to Robinson’s argument above, the grammarian would have included it.

Thomas’ final reference is John 15:26. But this is much like 14:26 in which there is a split between paraklētos and “That One”. Thus, Thomas may include it as a parallel reference with Robertson’s 14:26. But I fail to perceive how this helps the cause:

5:26 “When the paraklētos[ms] comes, Whom[ms] I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth[nt], the One Which[nt] comes forth from the Father—That One[ms] will testify about Me.”

Daniel B. Wallace, in his grammar, engages this kind of argument.25 After refuting it, he concludes (Greek transliterated):

Although one might argue that the Spirit’s personality [personhood] is in view in these passages, the view must be based on the nature of a paraklētos and the things said about the Comforter, not on any supposed grammatical subtleties. Indeed, it is difficult to find any text in which pneuma is grammatically referred to with the masculine gender.26

In a related footnote, Wallace makes a brief comment about 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and 2:7, noting that “Holy Spirit” is absent from the surrounding context.27 Nevertheless, he does think the Spirit is a possible referent for these two verses, though any argument for this cannot rely on the erroneous claim that masculine is the “natural gender” of pneuma.28

Concluding Thoughts

Pneuma is neuter, whether in reference to the Holy Spirit or an unclean spirit.

Yet, isn’t each individual pneuma in the Mark and Acts accounts above in actual fact a sentient, conscious being? Yes, of course. Though each demon (pneuma) uses its chosen vessel as its actor, each pneuma has its own thoughts and will in distinction from its possessed victim. Each is cast out against its will. And doesn’t such sentience necessarily indicate personhood? And shouldn’t this be somewhat analogous to the Holy Spirit? That is, if an unclean spirit is a person in and of itself, how much more should we consider the Holy Spirit to be a ‘Person’ in and of Itself/Himself, regardless of pronoun usage?

We might say “Sally discerned an evil spirt at that meeting” but we understand that it was the Holy Spirit working through her. The difference, of course, is that a Holy Spirit indwelt Christian is not possessed. While an unclean spirit imposes its own will upon its victim, the Holy Spirit allows the indwelt believer a choice. The believer retains complete control yet can allow the Spirit to work through by submitting to His/Its leading. A Holy Spirit indwelt person can choose either to be led by the flesh or led by the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26).

Too many times it seems theological motives override grammar and context in a misguided effort to bolster a particular position. Sometimes it is needless, for the doctrine in question is secured by other means elsewhere in Scripture. I’m inclined to believe these are motivated by good intentions. I might call these ‘over-interpretations’ and ‘over-apologetics’.

There are other ways to argue for the Holy Spirit as “the restrainer” in 2 Thessalonians 2. From my own research thus far, however, I don’t find them persuasive. If the Holy Spirit is deemed not to be “the restrainer”, how might that impact the pre-tribulation “Rapture” doctrine? And how might that impact your day to day life?

__________________________

1 Trivia: the horn blast sequence is the same each time, which is intended to indicate “X” in Morse code: dash-dot-dot-dash. (Technically, the second “dash” is too long—should be the same length as the first—and the space between the first “dash” and the “dots” is a bit too long.)
2 Robert L. Thomas, 2 Thessalonians, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Ephesians ~ Philemon; Rev. Ed., D. Garland & T. Longman, Gen. Eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), pp 470-71; underscore added. (A typographical error in the page number references to Robertson’s Grammar [“208-9”] was corrected.) The bracketed portion was moved from the second set of parentheses to the first, given that it seems to be more accurately apply there (“masculine because of the Spirit’s personality”), which becomes evident below when Robertson is critiqued on this.
3 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 4th ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1934), p 684.
4 But, then again, since the neuter is the same as the masculine in the dative (and genitive), this could possibly have caused confusion!
5 The original reference to the girl comes in 5:23, in which she is introduced by thygatrion (little daughter)—the diminutive form of thygatēr—and this term is neuter though clearly referencing a little girl by its definition. This illustrates that even when the very definition of a term indicates the sex/gender of the person described by the term this does not necessarily mean it will also correlate to the person’s “natural gender”.
6 Robertson, Grammar, p 436.
7 Bear in mind that Robertson’s work was written in the early 1900s, well before any modern ideas of gender.
8 On the surface, this is a grammatical error. A rough equivalent in English would be, “When the boy saw Jesus, the woman…” in which ‘the woman’ is the same person as ‘the boy’ at the beginning. But I think Mark was quite purposeful here. In light of his previous accounts (1:23-26; 5:2-13)—which we’ll investigate below—the Gospel writer intended to more sharply show the distinction between the possessing spirt and its host.
9 Rodney J. Decker, Mark 9—16, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2014), p 17 (Greek transliterated). I very much respect the late Decker, recalling his words from the Introduction in the BHGNT here explaining his selection of commentaries sourced for his two-part volume: “My choice to engage these writers beginning with the old ICC volume by Gould (1896)…is an attempt to give writers their due. Sometimes more recent commentators are simply a collection of snippets from older works, with or without credit” (p xxiv).
10 Ezra P. Gould, The Gospel According to St. Mark, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary; ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles A. Briggs; Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896), paragraph 5185 (at 9:20). Craig A. Evans, in his WBC (Mark 8:27—16:20, Word Biblical Commentary [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001]), disappointingly, at best merely indirectly addresses the grammatical issue, if at all: “The spirit is said to have seen Jesus, and it is the spirit that is said to have convulsed the boy. The symptoms may have been those usually associated with epilepsy, but the Markan evangelist makes it clear that it was an evil spirit, something distinct from the boy himself, that caused the illness” (p 52, emphasis added). But even this is better than the others consulted which didn’t mention the grammatical issue in any manner.
11 Gender is not specifically expressed here, but neuter is implied from its use in both participles in 1:26.
12 Interestingly, in my software the NA28 is tagged neuter, while the GNT is tagged masculine. There is no textual variant here.
13 Though autou is ms/nt in both 1:25 and 1:26, these obviously refer to the man as distinct from the unclean spirit.
14 Such a faulty notion can come from the plural “the unclean spirits” (to pneuma to akathartos) in 1:28, but this is unnecessary. An exclamation in the plural for one singular surprising action is not uncommon in English: Upon discovering your seemingly non-mechanically-inclined neighbor had replaced the brake pads on his car you respond, “I didn’t know you worked on cars!”
15 Contra, e.g., Robert H. Stein (Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the Greek New Testament {BECNT} [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008]), who specifically asserts, “The ‘us’ refers not to the man and the unclean spirit, but to unclean spirits as a group” (p 87). Couldn’t it be both/and? See next note.
16 This comports with the local context here. Thus, the verb “destroy” (apollumi)—rendered “ruin” here—in 1:24 is likely intended polysemy. On one level the possessing spirit is concerned Jesus will separate it from its host. This is reflected in the second entry in Frederick W. Danker’s The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2009): “’experience disconnection or separation’—a. lose with focus on what one has or possesses” (p 47). Though Danker specifically places Mk 1:24 in his first entry (“’cause severe damage’—a. by making ineffective or incapable of functioning destroy”, p 47), I think both apply. More specifically, the latter (destroy) applies both singly to the possessing spirit here and collectively for all demons in the new eschatological age Jesus inaugurated. See Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1—8:26, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1989), pp 58-60.
17 Gould, St. Mark, states: “Only the man had been mentioned before, which would lead us to refer this [ambiguous ms/nt pronoun] to him. But the command is evidently addressed to the demon. This confusion is due to the identification of the two” (para 4631 [at 5:8]; emphasis added).
18 The Textus Receptus has the masculine plural pronoun rather than the neuter. Gould thinks this is original (para 4640 [at 5:10]). In view of overall context (to include 9:20), I’m inclined to disagree with Gould, though the manuscript evidence is far from definitive—from what little I know, admittedly. Yet it’s curious that neither Metzger nor Comfort (New Testament Text and Translation Commentary) make note of this variant, for there seems legitimate cause to question the proper text. The NA28 (Holger Strutwolf, ed., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th, Accordance electronic ed. [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012], p 119) lists the following in the apparatus:

αυτους αποστειλη D ƒ13 28. 565. 700. 1424. (ƒ1 2542) 𝔐 ¦ αποστειλη αυτους A 579. 1241. ℓ 2211 it ¦ αυτον αποστειλη ℵ L (⸉ K W 892) lat syp bo ¦ txt B C Δ (⸉ Θ).

It may not matter much in translation, but it might be worth discussion by specialists.
19 The opinion of Gould, Mark, is nuanced somewhat differently, “Here the subject changes from the man speaking for the demons to the demons speaking through the man” (para 4646).
20 See I. Howard Marshall, Acts, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008), pp 285—87.
21 F. F. Bruce (The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary; 3rd rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990]) sources Plutarch’s De defectu oraculorum (9.414E) which “calls such soothsayers…ventriloquists who uttered words not only apparently, but really, beyond their own control” (p 360). Cf. Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the Greek New Testament [BECNT] (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), pp 535 note 2, 535—37.
22 Robertson, Grammar, pp 708-709. Here is the complete quote in its context, with transliterations in parentheses after the Greek: “Two passages in John call for remark, inasmuch as they bear on the personality of the Holy Spirit. In 14:26, ὁ δὲ παράκλητος, τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ὃ πέμψει ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐκεῖνος ὑμᾶς διδάξει (ho de paraklētos, to pneuma to hagion, ho pempsei ho patēr en tō̧ onomati mou, ekeinos hymas didaxei), the relative ὅ (ho) follows the grammatical gender of πνεῦμα (pneuma). Ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos), however, skips over πνεῦμα (pneuma) and reverts to the gender of παράκλητος (paraklētos). In 16:13 a more striking example occurs, ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃἐκεῖνος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας (hotan de elthȩ̄ ekeinos, to pneuma tēs alētheias). Here one has to go back six lines to ἐκεῖνος (ekeinos) again and seven to παράκλητος (paraklētos). It is more evident therefore in this passage that John is insisting on the personality of the Holy Spirit, when the grammatical gender so easily called for ἐκεῖνο (ekeino) [ED: neuter (instead of masculine)].”
23 Robertson, Grammar, pp 708-709.
24 Robertson, Grammar, p 709.
25 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 331, 332,
26 Wallace, Grammar, p 332; cf. p 338.
27 Wallace, Grammar, p 332, ftnt 44.
28 Wallace, Grammar, p 332. Wallace does not, however, advance any sort of argument.

Biblical Literalism

Are we to read the Bible literally?  That is, are we to literally read all of Scripture literally?

Taking a strictly literal approach to Scripture reading is problematic. Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7, 9); so, does this mean Jesus was the unique Word made flesh, while simultaneously a flat wooden object with hinges in order to allow woolly, bleating animals to enter? Even more troubling are the Apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Gal 4:19, NIV). So, not only was Paul in labor to birth the Galatians, he had already birthed them previously! Talk about a miraculous conception!! Today’s varied and many successful attempts at conception have nothing on Paul, a man who self-conceived his many Galatian offspring – simultaneously. 

Obviously, Jesus as a gate is a metaphor, just as “sheep” represents true followers of Jesus Christ.  And Paul was only metaphorically ‘birthing’ the Galatians. The meaning of the verses in John can be easily gleaned by the context.  The Galatians passage is based on and adapted from a Jewish idiom: “If one teaches the son of his neighbor the law, the Scripture reckons this the same as though he had begotten him”1 (cf. 1 Cor 4:15; Philemon 10).  Therefore, Paul was making the point that he had previously taught the Galatians the Gospel, yet, as they were being influenced by Judaizers, he had to steer them back to the purity of the Gospel message, away from the Law (Gal 5:1-6).  Paul used an apparently well-known metaphorical expression, while adding some hyperbole (“again in the pains of childbirth”) to drive the point home.

Another good example of hyperbole is in the Sermon on the Mount: …If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away (Matthew 5:29, 30; NIV 1984).  Certainly, Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation!  He’s illustrating the seriousness of the sin of lust.

There’s also a metaphorical component to these verses: the “right eye” and “right hand”.  Craig Blomberg notes, “[A]s is characteristic of Jesus’ figurative and hyperbolic style, he commands us to take drastic measures to avoid temptations to sexual sin – to remove from ourselves anyone or anything that could lead us into scandal (‘causes you to sin’).”2  The right eye and right hand were viewed as more valuable3 and the right side more powerful than the left.4  Charles H. Talbert adds a bit more:

These two illustrations are hyperbole; they are not to be taken literally.  Together they call for a radical integration of the self.  Whatever does not fit into the self’s integration around God’s will is to be jettisoned, whether it be eye (intent) or hand (action).  The sentiment is reflected in Philo, Planting 36-38, where he says the soul needs to be cultivated, protected, pruned, and even have parts cut off if necessary in pursuit of moral development.  “The maiming that moral life requires will be a thousandfold repaid with the wholeness of selfhood and the life of God that comes with amputation.”5

The “maiming” and “amputation” are, once again, metaphorical, not literal.  This “pruning” is done with God’s help, as illustrated in the Gospel of John (15:2).

As evidenced by the three examples above, Christians cannot interpret all of Scripture literally.  Yet, this is a charge that comes from some liberals who try to demean “Christian Fundamentalism” – a term used pejoratively – by portraying all (or most all) orthodox Christians as foolishly reading and interpreting Scripture in an unsophisticated and anti-scholarly manner, thereby distorting the ‘real’ meaning.6  Of course, it’s these same liberals who distort Scripture by literalizing metaphors and interpreting texts meant to be taken literally as metaphorical instead.

True Biblical Literalism

On the other hand, conservative, orthodox Christianity adheres to a doctrine known as Biblical Literalism for Scripture reading.  So, what is Biblical Literalism if not reading the Bible literally? 

In the best application of the term, Biblical Literalism “Generally…seeks to discover the author’s intent by focusing upon his words in their plain, most obvious sense.”7  This means, among other things, that literal passages are taken literally, metaphors are interpreted as metaphors, and hyperbole is understood as exaggeration for rhetorical effect.

The following excerpt is from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy with Exposition:

 Article XVIII.

WE AFFIRM that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.

WE DENY the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.8

The grammatico-historical method seeks to uncover the author’s intent by studying the grammar, syntax (sentence structure), literary type (narrative, poetry, etc.), literary devices (metaphor, hyperbole, etc.) and historical context.  Here’s more from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy with Exposition, this time from the Exposition section:

…[H]istory must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.

The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (e.g., the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called “phenomena” of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.9

How Many Meanings?

An important aspect of the grammatico-historical method is that there is only one correct reading of any passage of Scripture.  This does not preclude a passage, or even a whole book, from being literal yet also encompassing an allegorical understanding when the context makes this clear, such as the book of Hosea in which the relationship of Hosea to his wayward wife Gomer is analogous to God’s relationship with Israel.10  There are also NT fulfillments of OT types such as Jesus as the manna from Heaven (John 6 / Exodus 16).  Moreover, this does not preclude the Biblical author from using double entendre (double meaning) as in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus, in which John records Jesus using γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, which means is born from above/again (John 3:3).11

Yet, historically, there have been those who have claimed there are multiple meanings, or levels, of Scripture.  Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254) was one such individual. 

It’s important to understand that Origen was influenced by Middle Platonism,12 teaching on the preexistence of souls (and some, as I, construe transmigration of souls / reincarnation as well).  Attendant with this belief was his doctrine of universal reconciliation (all will be saved – including the devil!)13.  Some of Origen’s works were later burned, and he may have been posthumously branded a heretic at the Second Council of Constantinople (553AD) for these beliefs, though scholars are divided on this issue.14

With Origen’s penchant for mysticism, resulting from his affinity for the philosophy of Plato, came his threefold interpretation of Scripture, with a preference for the allegorical, though he sometimes departed from his own triadic formula:

…According to Origen, the biblical texts have a literal meaning, another which is moral, and another which is intellectual.  This is parallel to the presence in humans of body, soul, and spirit, based on what Philo had previously said and done.  But Origen did not always follow this triple scheme; instead he frequently included only the allegorical sense, and at times found a multitude of different senses in the same text….15

In effect, Origen’s belief system created a two-tiered structure of Christians – the unenlightened and the enlightened: “For Origen, those who stayed only with the literal meaning of the text were unenlightened souls who had not realized that Jesus gave some of his teaching in the valleys and some on mountaintops.  Only to the latter disciples, those who could ascend the mountains, did Jesus reveal himself transfigured.”16

Origen was quite influential, even into Medieval times, as his method of extracting meaning from the texts (or variations thereof) continued, expanding to a fourfold (quadriga) sense: literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical (personal foreshadowings, prophetic).17  However, some sought ‘only’ two meanings, while still others reached for seven.  The literal sense was typically viewed as the least important, while the allegorical retained its preeminence,18 a la Origen.

While most rejected or downplayed the literal sense, there were a limited few who gave priority to the literal:

…[Thomas] Aquinas made the other meanings of Scripture dependent upon the literal meaning and thus elevated it above them.  He said, “…all the senses [of Scripture] are found on one – the literal – from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory…” (Summa Theologiae, i.1.10)19

However, it wasn’t until the Reformation that Scripture was afforded the opportunity to speak for itself.  Quoting Martin Luther, “When I was a monk, I was an expert at allegorizing Scripture, but now my best skill is only to give the literal, simple sense of Scripture, from which comes power, life, comfort, and instruction.”20

Protestantism continued with this “literal, simple sense” of the Biblical text amidst a myriad of challenges in the ensuing centuries from Pietism, Hegelian historicism, Liberalism, the “Historical Jesus” movement, Form Criticism, Bultmann’s demythologizing the Bible, Structuralism (Biblical books as literature only), etc.21

Current Trends in Christendom

It seems that in the past 100 or so years, there’s been a shift in some of Protestantism (loosely defined) away from the literal, plain meaning of Scripture back to the allegorical.  Postmodern (or is it now post-postmodern?) thinking has provided an ‘anything goes’ method of understanding Scripture, with one’s own intuition or experience dictating meaning.  In some quarters, there’s a dichotomy between those who dismiss orthodoxy and scholasticism over against those who adhere to the more traditional form of Christianity, such that some in the hyper-charismatic and Emergent wings of Christendom (again, loosely defined) seem to be of the opinion that “my feelings and/or experiences trump your dogma”.  Mystical experiences and/or one’s own thoughts are shoe-horned into Scripture – a practice known as eisegesis (reading meaning into the text).

Sadly, those better equipped to deal with these problems – those who teach at seminaries or Bible Colleges – are mostly deaf to the issues, either by ignorance of these problems, or seeming apathy.  Of those at least somewhat aware of the issues, their silence may render them complicit.  This leaves the task of correction to informed laypersons, many of whom have been and are frantically trying to learn orthodoxy and proper methods themselves, most not having the financial wherewithal, or time, to attend Bible College or seminary, in order to instruct others.  As I see it, properly instructing new converts is the second part of Jesus’ command to make disciples:

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20, NASB]

Just getting them in the door (like the so-called “seeker friendly” churches) is not enough; we must teach them to observe all that Christ commanded.  How can the average church-goer know what Christ commanded if they’ve not been given the teachings?  How can the hyper-charismatic or Emergent church attendee know what Christ commanded if they’re merely reading their own intuitions and experiences into the Bible?

The Way Ahead

What can we do now that instead of one wayward sheep out of a flock of 100 (Matthew 18:10-14; Luke 15:4-7), there seem to be 99?  (Assuming these are really sheep to begin with.)  Desperately needed is leadership that can properly instruct in order to correct these negative trends.  Basic interpretive principles must be taught, so that the average church goer can be truly made into a disciple of Christ, thereby becoming less likely to stray as a wayward sheep.

Before going further it needs to be mentioned that the true Holy Spirit indwelt Christian can read Scripture on his/her own, without external aids, by the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Nevertheless, proper instruction can help to enhance one’s reading and promote good reading habits.

It needs to be stressed that the initial step in understanding any Scripture (or any literary work) is to begin by extracting meaning from the text (exegesis).  Proper exegesis comes from reading a given passage in its larger context (rather than simply ‘proof-texting’ one verse or clause), taking note of metaphors and hyperbole, to include reading the entire book. 

For example, if one wishes to understand what Paul means by some preaching a “different gospel” in Galatians 1:6-7, one needs to read the rest of the epistle to see what Paul is referring to.  To make his case, Paul goes on to explain his position as an authority called by God (1:11-24), that he was accepted as an Apostle (2:1-10), and that he scolded Peter for preferring Jews over Gentiles out of fear, attempting to impose Mosaic Law upon the Gentiles (2:11-21).  The meat of this epistle then is an admonition to continue in the faith and not become slaves again to the Law.  This reverting back to the Law of Moses is the “different gospel” of which Paul speaks in the beginning of this letter.

Once the reader understands the point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the reader is less apt to proof-text individual verses into meaning something entirely contrary to that which the writer had intended.  One who listens to Bill Johnson, for example, would dismiss Johnson’s teaching that Paul’s “another gospel” was one that would negate an ‘all must be healed’ gospel, for Paul’s message instead is clearly about the Judaizers who were trying to bring back the Law.  In fact, Paul himself speaks of an illness he endured in 4:13-14:

13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. [NIV]

This obviously shows that Paul was not preaching an ‘all will be healed’ gospel, as Paul’s illness brought a trial to the Galatians of whom Paul states “you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (v 15).  Surely, this would have provided a very bad example for the kind of “gospel” Bill Johnson is claiming.  That is, unless Bill Johnson wishes to claim that the Apostle Paul himself was preaching “another gospel” – a quite absurd notion.

Knowing a bit about the societal and cultural background in NT times is also quite helpful towards good exegesis.  Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and even some study Bibles, can provide this information.  For more on getting the most from your Bible reading, I recommend the Gordon Fee/Douglas Stuart How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.22 

It’s time the Church, most especially the Emergent and hyper-charismatic wings, came back to true Biblical Literalism  –  instead of engaging in eisegesis, thereby taking Scripture out of proper context in order to fit one’s own interpretation.  Teaching congregants how to apply proper exegetical principles will alleviate this sort of thing and bring forth Biblical literacy.  Any subjective experience or thought must be measured against the literal, plain sense of the Bible, and, if not found to be congruent with Scripture, it must be rejected as not of God.

     [1] Marvin R. Vincent Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume IV, 2009 (5th Ed, August 2009), Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, USA, p 147.  This is taken from the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, folia 19b (para 11) as found here: <http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_19.html>, Rabbi, Dr. I. Epstein (Gen. Ed.), n d, Soncino Press, London, as accessed 05/01/13.  While the Babylonian Talmud was not written until well after the Apostle Paul penned the Epistle to the Galatians, it seems very possible that this idiom was in the oral Tradition of the Jews at the time of Paul’s writing of the letter.  Cf. F. F. Bruce New International Greek New Testament Commentary: Commentary on Galatians, 1982, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 212-213, though Bruce does not mention the Jewish idiom. 
     [2] Craig L. Blomberg The New American Commentary: Vol. 22; Matthew, 1992, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, p 109. Emphasis in original.  The Greek word rendered ‘cause to sin’ is (transliterated) skandalov, from which we obviously get the word “scandal”.  Donald Hagner renders this “cause to stumble” [Word Biblical Commentary, 33A: Matthew 1-13, 1993, Word, Dallas, TX, p 119].
     [3] Blomberg Matthew, p 109
     [4] Grant R. Osborne, (Clinton E. Arnold, Gen. Ed.) Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Volume 1: Matthew, 2010, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, p 196
     [5] Charles H. Talbert Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5-7, 2004 (2nd pr. 2007) Baker, Grand Rapids, MI, p 76.  The portion in quotes at the end of the selected text is from Frederick Dale Bruner [The Christbook, A Historical/Theological Commentary: Matthew 1-12, 1987, Word, Dallas, TX, p 186] as cited in Talbert.  While this may seem like Talbert is stating that we do this through self-effort, the point is to submit to the indwelt Holy Spirit.
     [6] See G. K. Beale The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority, 2008, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, p 21, for a brief mention of fundamentalism.  Cf. C. T. McIntire “Fundamentalism” in Walter A. Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984 (10th pr. 1994), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 433-435.
     [7] J. J. Scott “Literalism” in Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary, p 643
     [8] Currently available online at <http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html>, © 2001-2012 Michael D. Marlowe, as accessed 04/28/13.  Also available as Appendix 2 in Beale Erosion of Inerrancy [pp 267-279].  Article XVIII is on p 273.
     [9] Beale Erosion of Inerrancy, p 277.  While Beale generally agrees with the Chicago Statement [p 24], he states in a footnote that he takes minor issue with some of the wording.  In the section as quoted above beginning with “Differences between literary conventions in Bible times…” and ending with “…that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed” he explains: This statement does not take into consideration that even some modern literary genres use non-chronological narration or nonprecise [sic] time or geographical measurements or approximations as an acceptable style.  Also, I would prefer not to speak of “apparent inconsistencies” in Scripture as “illusions” [ED: see last sentence in above quote]…but rather as phenomena that will one day be understood at the end of history, when we shall ‘know fully’ (cf. 1 Cor. 14:12).  This underscores the partial knowledge that we have in the inaugurated eschatological era in contrast to the ‘full knowledge’ that we will have in the consummated eschatological period (see 1 Cor. 14:9-12) [from footnote on p 267].  I would have to agree with Beale.
     [10] Leon J. Wood “Hosea” in Frank E. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.) The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets, 1985, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 164-167.  Cf. Donald E. Gowan Theology of the Prophetic Books: The Death and Resurrection of Israel, 1998, Westminster John Knox, Louisville/London, pp 47, 37-47, in which the moderately liberal Gowan seems unwilling to recognize that it’s Gomer referenced in both chapter 3 and chapter 1 of Hosea, though he sees chapter 3 as allegory: That it was intended to be symbolic, that is, representing in the prophet’s life what was happening in the relationship between God and Israel, is made evident by the comparison: “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the LORD loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes” (3:1).  Israel has been promiscuous, so the prophet must deal with some promiscuous woman the same way God deals with Israel…[p 47].
     [11] BDAG [Walter Bauer, F. W. Danker, et. al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2000 (3rd ed.), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL] defines the term as “at a subsequent point of time involving repetition, again, anew”, also noting that in the context of John 3:13 ανωθεν “is designedly ambiguous and suggests also a transcendent experience born from above” [p 92].
     [12] Andrew Louth The Origins of Christian Mysticism: From Plato to Denys, 1981 (1983, 1st pprbk), Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York/Toronto, pp 52-53
     [13] Justo L. Gonzalez “Origen” in Justo L. Gonzalez, Gen. Ed. (transl. Suzanne E. Hoeferkamp Segovia) The Westminster Dictionary of Theologians, Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY, p 267; Chas S. Clifton “Origen” Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, 1992, Barnes & Nobles, New York, 105.
     [14] Clifton, Encyclopedia, a rather abbreviated source, states so definitively [p 105]; Gonzalez [Westminster Dictionary] is less straight-forward, though leaning in the same direction: Such theories were never accepted by Christians in general, and they were soon officially rejected by the church [p 267].  Contra John A. McGuckin “The Council of Constantinople II” in The SCM Press A-Z of Patristic Theology, 2005 (2nd ed.), SCM Press, London: In Anathema 11 the name of Origen himself appears as a heretic.  Modern scholarship has since argued that the name was inserted as a later interpolation into the conciliar acts to justify the burning of his books (though many propositions from Evagrius and the Origenist monks of the desert were certainly condemned here) [p 84; bold in original].  Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok “Origen” in Who’s Who in Christianity, 1998, Routledge, London/New York, is confusing in that the phraseology could be construed as though Origen is branded a heretic at Constantinople II for his teachings on the Trinity; nothing at all is mentioned about his views on the preexistence of souls [p 227].
     [15] Gonzalez Westminster Dictionary, p 266
     [16] McGuckin “Origen” A-Z of Patristic Theology, p 244
     [17] J. J. Scott “Literalism” in Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary, p 643; D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in G. W. Bromiley, Gen. Ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Fully Revised), 1982 (July ’88 reprint), William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, p ii.865.  Hereafter ISBE.
     [18] D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in ISBE, p ii.865;  J. J. Scott “Literalism” in Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary, p 643
     [19] D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in ISBE, p ii.865
     [20] D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in ISBE, p ii.865; from Tischreden, 5285, Oct. 1540.  Cf. J. J. Scott “Literalism” in Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary, p 643
     [21] D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in ISBE, p ii.865-874
     [22] Gordon Fee, Douglas Stuart How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI

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