Satan Evicted: Dual Purpose Literary Devices

Dual Purpose Literary Devices

The Bible can be a difficult piece of literature. It employs not only a number of literary devices, but it also utilizes dual purpose literary devices such as biblical types, dual purpose passages, and dual occurrence prophecies. These devices add to the human ability to understand complex issues, concepts, and events – they provide examples and models that help us see and comprehend.

Unfortunately, these devices can easily result in confusion and conflict among biblical scholars especially in the study of prophetic events. It is difficult to differentiate between those events that have already been fulfilled, those that have been partially fulfilled, and those that will be fulfilled in the future.

Eschatological Views

The difficulty in determining when, how, and by whom biblical prophecies are fulfilled has resulted in three primary eschatological views:1

  1. PRETERISM: Preterism is a Christian eschatological view that interprets prophecies of the Bible, especially Daniel and Revelation, as events which have already happened in the first century A.D. Preterism holds that Ancient Israel finds its continuation or fulfillment in the Christian church at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.2
     
  2. IDEALISM: Idealism (also called the spiritual approach, the allegorical approach, the nonliteral approach, and many other names) in Christian eschatology is an interpretation of the Book of Revelation that sees all of the imagery of the book as non-literal symbols.3
     
  3. HISTORICISM: Historicism is a method of interpretation, in Christian eschatology, by associating biblical prophecies with actual historical events as well as identifying symbolic beings with historical persons or societies.4
     
  4. FUTURISM: Futurism is a Christian eschatological view that interprets the Book of Revelation, the Book of Daniel, the Olivet discourse and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats as future events in a literal, physical, apocalyptic, and global context. Futurism interprets these passages as prophecies that will be fulfilled in the future as literal, physical events.5

The conflict between these groups can become hostile and bitter. This conflict is unnecessarily divisive because a broad examination of the scriptures reveals that each view has merit. Many of the “end time” prophecies were fulfilled in 70AD, many have allegorical characteristics, many are reflected in historical events, and many will occur at some point in the future.

Unfortunately, far too many scholars fail to recognize God’s omnipotence and omniscience – they assign God human limitations. This is an error. Biblical scripture was not authored by humans but by the hand of God. They are fluid, they breathe, and they are alive… Unchanging yet adaptive…

Types & Examples of Devices

Dual purpose literary devices, such as allegories,6 serve as models and examples to help the reader understand abstract, complex, or unusual concepts much like other literary devices such as metaphors, symbols, and similes. They can come in positive or negative forms. Positive forms consist of characteristics that are similar to the item under discussion; negative forms consist of characteristics that are dissimilar. For example, the Noahic flood is a positive example of Christ’s second coming – both will come quickly and unexpectedly upon the wicked. The Antichrist is a negative example of Jesus Christ – the Antichrist is wicked while Jesus Christ is holy.

When examining dual purpose literary devices, like any form of figurative language, the reader must be careful not to read too much into the comparison. Although the two items may share similar traits, the comparison is never exact – there are differences that should be considered.

1.     BIBLICAL TYPES: a person or event that serves as an example or model for a separate situation.

The good example of a biblical type can be found in the design of the Jewish temple. God provided detailed plans concerning the size, shape, construction, and composition of the building and contents of the earthly temple… as the earthly temple was a type of the heavenly temple. If we want to know what the abode of God looks like, we need only study the plans for the Jewish temple. Naturally, the earthly temple is not an exact replica, but its plans do give us an approximation.

Another good example of a biblical type can be found in the Jewish sacrifices of the Old Testament. They typified the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ to atone for man’s sin. This is why Jesus Christ is referred to as the Lamb of God within the book of revelation.

2.     DUAL ROLE: a passage that contains two or more messages, meanings, or prophecies.

An easily recognizable example of dual role passages can be found in John’s messages to the seven churches within the book of Revelation. Although the messages are directed to a specific congregation and address specific positive attributes, shortcomings, blessings, and admonishments for each church, they also describe the different types of Christians that exist today. The messages serve two roles: one for the first century church congregation and one for the twenty-first century Christian. The passages are more than mere history; they are just as applicable today as they were nearly two-thousand years ago.

A major controversy within biblical circles is over the meaning of Matthew 24:34, “Verily I say unto you, ‘This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled’” (Mark 13:1-37, and Luke 21:5-33). Preterism insist that all of the prophecies within Matthew 24 were fulfilled within forty years of its deliver, 70 AD – a literal forty year generation. Others argue that the Greek term genea can also refer to “family” or “race” and indicate that this passage should be interpreted as the Jewish race will not pass away before all these things are fulfilled. Still others argue that “this generation” is not speaking of Jesus Christ’s earthly contemporaries – the people born about the same time as he – but rather the generation that is alive during the time when the signs occur.

Naturally, the problem lies with the limitation of human imagination, not the passage or its fulfillment. The Preterism view is at least partially correct in that Jesus was targeting his contemporaries, especially the Sadducees and Pharisees, because their self-centeredness missed recognizing the Messiah. This view is validated by the previous chapter in Matthew. However, the other two viewpoints may be qually correct as we would have to really “spiritualize” several of the events to conclude that they were fulfilled during the first century. We should recognize that God’s Word is infinite and applied to both those living during Christ’s earthly ministry and those who will be living at the time of Christ’s Second Advent. The passage serves dual roles – for both generations.

3.     DUAL OCCURENCE: a single prophecy that will be fulfilled at two or more times or manners.

The best known example of dual occurrence prophecy can be found within the Olivet Discourse in reference to the “abomination of desolation.” The Jewish tradition indicates that Daniel’s original prophecy occurred in 167 BC by Antiochus Epiphanes when he set up an altar to Zeus in the Second Temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar. Jesus Christ, speaking 200 years after Antiochus, indicated that the abomination would occur at some point in the future.

The Preterism view claims that this prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the second temple; the futurism view claims the Romans may have destroyed the temple but there are no historical records to indicate that they setup an idol within the holy place. The dispute between Preterism and futurism illustrates the “childishness” of some scholarly debates. If the “abomination of desolation” prophecy could occur twice, it certainly can be occur three times. Once again, the problem lies not in the biblical scripture but within the human mindset.

Does this mean that any prophecy can be occur at two or more times or manners? No. Were all the Olivet Discourse prophecies fulfilled during the first century? No. For example, Matthew 24:21 states, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” While the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD might have been horrendous, it paled in comparison to the atrocities of the Holocaust where millions of Jews were exterminated. The siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple were “types” of the tribulation to come – they possessed many of the characteristics of the great tribulation, but not all. As with any biblical passage, we be cautious of overstep – making connections where connections were never intended.

Full or Partial Fulfillment

Many biblical scholars claim that a prophecy can only be fulfilled once – once it occurs, that’s it… it’s finished. On one level I tend to agree. Once the entire Olivet Discourse prophecy is fulfilled, it’s unlikely that it will be repeated. However, that doesn’t mean that individual elements cannot occur multiple times or that a prophecy cannot be “partially fulfilled.”

The good example of partial occurrence (fulfillment) can be found in the book of Acts:

Acts 2:14-21: Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike— and they will prophesy. And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below— blood and fire and clouds of smoke. The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the LORD arrives. But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.’” (NLT)

Since this is a portion of the Bible, we understand that the words spoken by Peter are the inspired Words of God and Peter was not in error in comparing to the events of Pentecost to the prophetic vision within the book of Joel. Yet, Peter seems to be claiming the following:

  1. These are the last days.
  2. Sons and daughters will prophesy.
  3. Men will see visions and dreams.
  4. Men and women will prophesy.
  5. There were wonders in heaven above.
  6. There were signs on the earth below.
  7. The sun became dark.
  8. The moon turned blood red.

Did he literally mean all of those things? Probably not. Was there a miraculous demonstration of the powers of the Holy Spirit? Absolutely. However, we understand that the Day of the Lord has yet to arrive so labeling the Day of Pentecost as the “last days” was probably be a stretch. And, it is unlikely that the physical signs in the heaven and earth physically occurred.

Some biblical scholars claim that the Day of Pentecost fulfilled Joel’s prophecy and that it will not be repeated. I think this is error. Some of the individual elements were fulfilled at Pentecost and Peter was correct in applying Joel’s prophecy to that situation. However, it was only a partial occurrence – a partial fulfillment. The Joel’s prophetic vision will likely be fully realized at some future point.

Dividing the Elements Within a Prophetic Vision

Some scholars assert that individual elements of a prophetic vision can be fulfilled on different occasions. For example, some claim that portions of the Olivet Discourse were specific to 70 AD siege of Jerusalem and will not be repeated while other portions of the same discourse are reserved for the “end times.” We see a similar pattern when John’s prophetic visions in Revelation are spread over a period of two-thousand years.

There are examples of where two different elements of a prophecy are fulfilled on two separate occasions such as the resurrection of the saints and the resurrection of the wicked. There are also prophetic visions that are fulfilled over an extended period of time such as Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the great statue. However, we must be very, very careful in dividing single prophetic visions into individual parts, and there must be ample justification for such divisions. In the case of the great statue, Daniel’s interpretation provides clear and sufficient evidence. In the case of two separate resurrections, the division is less clear and requires far more than a cursory glance – it requires a careful comparison and detailed analysis of related scripture.

Conclusion

We should understand that God’s Word is not limited to human capabilities but is alive, it breaths, and it is fluid. We should also be very cautious in applying such devices to our understanding because they are a source of confusion and conflict among biblical scholars. However, dual purpose literary devices within biblical scripture greatly enhance the human capability to envision God’s eternal plan as they provide examples and models that help us see and comprehend highly complex ideas and issues.


1The concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind.

2“Preterism,” Wikipedia, Oct. 2, 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preterism> Nov. 10, 2011.

3“Idealism,” Wikipedia, May 26, 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idealism_(Christian_eschatology)> Nov. 10, 2011.

4“Historicism,” Wikipedia, Nov. 7, 2011 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicism_(Christianity)> Nov. 10, 2011.

5“Futurism,” Wikipedia, Nov. 5, 2011 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futurism_(Christianity)> Nov. 10, 2011.

6See also Kingdom of God: SIDEBAR: Exploring Allegories


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Calvin E. Roberts, Jr. — San Augustine, Texas 75972 — mail@satan-evicted.com