Thursday, December 14, 2017
Christian Zionism's Problematic Interpretation of Scripture - Stephen Sizer
The Rise of Biblical Literalism vs Christian Tradition
The rise of biblical literalism in the early 18th century was central to Christian Zionism. In the 1830's, John Nelson Darby substituted the traditional Christian view of the Revelation for his own literalist hermeneutic, claiming that God had revealed it to him by special revelation.
In place of all main Christian tradition, Darby concocted a "dispensationalist" view; the belief that God was about to destroy the world and inaugurate a "whole new dispensation" on earth. This led to speculative interpretations of apocalyptic writings, especially Daniel and Revelation.
Lewis Chafer defines the literal hermeneutic upon which which dispensationalism and Christian Zionism is based in the following way: "The dispensationalist believes every statement of the Bible has only the plain, natural meaning its words imply." Additionally, dispensationalists believe prophecy must be taken literally, despite Christian tradition having interpreted the Bible's future predictions as symbolic.
Unfortunately, this absolutist commitment to literalism does not place any emphasis on the historical context of passages or the way scripture interprets scripture.
Take for example the blessings made to Abraham in Genesis 12. Though these promises were made to the patriarch personally, Christian Zionists applies to the current nation state of Israel.
Biblical Prophecy Removed From Its Covenant Context
Christian Zionists - working from a flawed literalist hermeneutic - believe prophecy is pre-written history. In doing so, they detach the words of the prophets in scripture from the covenental contexts in which they were originally given.
This speculative endeavor is at odds with the prophets themselves, who consistently stressed that it was their intention to call God's people back to the terms of their covenental relationship. Their role was not to reveal arbitrary and otherwise hidden facts about predestined future events thousands of years later.
This is the most basic hermeneutical error which Christian Zionists consistently repeat. Biblical prophecy is invariably conditional rather than fatalistic and is ALWAYS given within the context of the covenant relationship between God and his chosen people.
But Christian Zionists treat scriptures as a "frozen text." Based on highly selective texts, they erroneously focus on a restored Jewish kingdom rather than the Body of Christ, upon the contemporary State of Israel rather than the cross of Christ. Their selective hermeneutic leads to them ignore how Jesus and the Apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament.
The Christian Zionist's misguided reading of both history and contemporary events, determined by the dubios exegesis of highly selective texts, is essentially fatalistic, polarised and dualistic. It sets Israel and the Jewish people apart from and above all other people; despite what Jesus and Paul taught.
Any suggestion that the Jewish people continue to have a special status before God is biblical anathema. The exalted Christ rules from the heavenly Jerusalem with sovereignty over the entire world. A regression to the limited form of the Old Covenant that Jesus fulfilled is not sound Christian teaching and ignores the ways that Jesus and the Apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament.
The Unfortunate Results
These problematic practices and understandings only serve to perpetuate, exacerbate, and the policies of right-wing Israelis who resist negotiating land for peace. It reinforces Israel's apartheid policies and the illegal settlement and absorption of Occupied Palestinian Territories into the State of Israel.