Family Study: Zechariah 6


Question: "What is biblical hermeneutics?"

Answer: Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible. Second Timothy 2:15 commands believers to be involved in hermeneutics: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who . . . correctly handles the word of truth.” The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible.

The most important law of biblical hermeneutics is that the Bible should be interpreted literally. We are to understand the Bible in its normal or plain meaning, unless the passage is obviously intended to be symbolic or if figures of speech are employed. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. For example, when Jesus speaks of having fed “the five thousand” in Mark 8:19, the law of hermeneutics says we should understand five thousand literally—there was a crowd of hungry people that numbered five thousand who were fed with real bread and fish by a miracle-working Savior. Any attempt to “spiritualize” the number or to deny a literal miracle is to do injustice to the text and ignore the purpose of language, which is to communicate. Some interpreters make the mistake of trying to read between the lines of Scripture to come up with esoteric meanings that are not truly in the text, as if every passage has a hidden spiritual truth that we should seek to decrypt. Biblical hermeneutics keeps us faithful to the intended meaning of Scripture and away from allegorizing Bible verses that should be understood literally.

A second crucial law of biblical hermeneutics is that passages must be interpreted historically, grammatically, and contextually. Interpreting a passage historically means we must seek to understand the culture, background, and situation that prompted the text. For example, in order to fully understand Jonah’s flight in Jonah 1:1–3, we should research the history of the Assyrians as related to Israel. Interpreting a passage grammatically requires one to follow the rules of grammar and recognize the nuances of Hebrew and Greek. For example, when Paul writes of “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” in Titus 2:13, the rules of grammar state that God and Savior are parallel terms and they are both in apposition to Jesus Christ—in other words, Paul clearly calls Jesus “our great God.” Interpreting a passage contextually involves considering the context of a verse or passage when trying to determine the meaning. The context includes the verses immediately preceding and following, the chapter, the book, and, most broadly, the entire Bible. For example, many puzzling statements in Ecclesiastes become clearer when kept in context—the book of Ecclesiastes is written from the earthly perspective “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). In fact, the phrase under the sun is repeated about thirty times in the book, establishing the context for all that is “vanity” in this world.

A third law of biblical hermeneutics is that Scripture is always the best interpreter of Scripture. For this reason, we always compare Scripture with Scripture when trying to determine the meaning of a passage. For example, Isaiah’s condemnation of Judah’s desire to seek Egypt’s help and their reliance on a strong cavalry (Isaiah 31:1) was motivated, in part, by God’s explicit command that His people not go to Egypt to seek horses (Deuteronomy 17:16).

Some people avoid studying biblical hermeneutics because they mistakenly believe it will limit their ability to learn new truths from God’s Word or stifle the Holy Spirit’s illumination of Scripture. But their fears are unfounded. Biblical hermeneutics is all about finding the correct interpretation of the inspired text. The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to protect us from misapplying Scripture or allowing bias to color our understanding of truth. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). We want to see the truth, know the truth, and live the truth as best we can, and that’s why biblical hermeneutics is vital.


Question: "Is partial preterism biblical? What do partial preterists believe?"

Answer: Preterism is the eschatological view that the “end times” prophecies of the Bible have already been fulfilled. So, when we read what the Bible says about the tribulation, we are reading history. Preterism is divided into two camps: full (or consistent) preterism and partial preterism. Full preterism takes an extreme view that all prophecy in the Bible has been fulfilled in one way or another. Partial preterists take a more moderate approach, and many partial preterists consider full preterists to be guilty of heresy.

Those who hold to partial preterism believe that the prophecies in Daniel, Matthew 24, and Revelation (with the exception of the last two or three chapters) have already been fulfilled and were fulfilled no later than the first century AD. According to partial preterism, there is no rapture, and passages describing the tribulation and the Antichrist are actually referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the Roman emperor Titus. Partial preterists do believe in the return of Christ to earth and a future resurrection and judgment, but they do not teach a millennial kingdom or that Israel as a nation has a place in God’s future plan. According to partial preterists, the Bible’s references to “the last days” are speaking of the last days of the Old Jewish Covenant, not the last days of the earth itself.

In order for partial preterists to maintain their position, they insist that the book of Revelation was written early (before AD 70). They must also use an inconsistent hermeneutic when interpreting prophetic passages. According to the preterist view of the end times, chapters 6—18 of Revelation are highly symbolic, not describing any literal events. Since the destruction of Jerusalem did not involve the wholesale destruction of sea life (Revelation 16:3) or agonizing darkness (verse 10), these judgments are interpreted by the preterist as purely allegorical. However, according to preterists, chapter 19 is to be understood literally—Jesus Christ will physically return. But chapter 20 is again interpreted allegorically by preterists, while chapters 21—22 are understood literally, at least in part, in that there will truly be a new heaven and new earth.

No one denies that Revelation contains amazing and sometimes confusing visions. No one denies that Revelation describes many things figuratively—that’s the nature of apocalyptic literature. However, to arbitrarily deny the literal nature of select portions of Revelation is to destroy the basis of interpreting any of the book literally. If the plagues, witnesses, beast, false prophet, millennial kingdom, etc., are all allegorical, then on what basis do we claim that the second coming of Christ and the new earth are literal? That is the failure of preterism—it leaves the interpretation of Revelation to the opinions of the interpreter.

Those who hold to partial preterism also do not read Matthew 24 in a literal sense. Christ spoke of the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:2). But much of what He described did not occur in AD 70. Christ speaks of that future time as one of “great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21–22). Surely, this cannot be applied to the events of AD 70. There have been worse times in the history of the world since then.

The Lord also says, “Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29–30). In order for the events of these two verses to have already occurred, Jesus Christ must have returned bodily in AD 70—but He did not. The partial preterist believes that these verses do not refer to a bodily return of Christ but to an appearing of His judgment. However, this is not what a normal, literal reading of the text would lead anyone to believe. It is the “Son of Man” whom people see, not just His judgment.

Partial preterists also appeal to Matthew 24:34 where Jesus speaks of “this generation.” They say that Christ was referring to those living at the time He spoke the words recorded in that chapter; thus, the tribulation had to occur within about 40 years of His statement. However, we believe that Jesus was not referring to the people of His day but to the generation who would witness the events recorded in Matthew 24:15–31. That future generation will witness all of the swiftly moving events of the last days, including Christ’s bodily return (verses 29–30).

The partial preterist viewpoint leads to a belief in amillenialism (or post-millenialism) and is associated with covenant theology. Of course, it rejects dispensationalism. But its main problem is its inconsistent hermeneutic and its allegorizing of many biblical prophecies that are better understood literally. While partial preterism is within the scope of orthodoxy, it is not the majority view among Christians today.


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Question: "What biblical prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70?"

Answer: Much of importance happened in Israel in AD 70, and many link the events of that time to prophecies in the Bible. In studying this subject, it’s good to remember that prophecy does not describe the future in the same way that history describes the past. That’s why there are varied interpretations of biblical prophecy. Predictions dealing with the end times, a category known as eschatology, are of particular interest to many people. Within modern Christianity, most of these discussions are less about which events are predicted than when the events will happen. The most common point of reference for these opinions is the significant year of AD 70, when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple.

Virtually all Christian interpretations of biblical prophecy agree that several prophecies were fulfilled in or before AD 70. Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple (Luke 21:6; Matthew 24:2) and, some would argue, the Jewish genocide at the hands of Rome (Luke 23:27-31). Historically, these events align extremely well with Jesus’ statements. There is broad agreement within most Christian interpretations that these prophecies were literally fulfilled in AD 70.

There is debate over whether additional prophecies, such as those found in Daniel chapter 9, Matthew chapters 24 and 25, and Revelation chapters 6—18, were also fulfilled in AD 70 or if they are yet to come. Partial preterism and full preterism hold that most, if not all, of the prophetic events in the Bible were completed by the end of the first century, mostly prior to AD 70. Dispensationalism holds that only the temple destruction and possibly the genocide were actually fulfilled in AD 70 and that the rest of the prophecies will have a future fulfillment during the tribulation.

In terms of historical evidence, there is little to make a definitive case one way or the other. The events of AD 70 can be made to fit certain prophetic claims, depending on one’s perspective. Of course, if one is willing to apply a high enough degree of symbolic interpretation, any prophecy can be made to conform to almost any event. It should be noted, however, that most non-dispensational interpretations require the book of Revelation to have been written prior to AD 70, something that general scholarship does not support.

The most serious difficulties in claiming all the prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70 are theological. In particular, preterism requires scriptural passages to be interpreted with a chaotic blend of extremely literal and extremely figurative language. One would have to interpret words, verses, and phrases that appear in the same discourse, or even the same paragraph, with a different literal-figurative assumption.

The most reasonable interpretation is that the genocide and destruction of the temple were prophecies fulfilled in AD 70, and that the other events described in Daniel, Matthew, and Revelation are yet to occur. They are truly end-times predictions.


Overview of the Visions:


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