The Fallacy of the Missing Words Hermeneutic
Hermeneutic is the Science of Interpretation. It does not matter if one is trying to understand the Bible, or a newspaper article, hermeneutic is the practice of determining the meaning of what has been written or even said.
There some basic rules that help us determine the meaning of a given text:
Who wrote / said something, and to whom did they say it, or say it about?
What did they actually say or do? What did they say had been, was being, or would be done?
When did the speaker / writer speak or write? When did they say events had or will happen?
Where did the speaker / writer live? Where did / does the audience live?
Why did the author / speaker write or speak? Why did he speak or write in the manner he did?
For a discussion of these journalistic / hermeneutical rules, be sure to check out my YouTube video series, over 20 videos, beginning here: “Principles for Understanding Bible Prophecy.”
I am not going to discuss these questions further at this time. What I want to focus on in this article is a hermeneutic that I am increasingly encountering in my exchanges with those who oppose Covenant Eschatology, i.e. the full preterist view. I call this “The Missing Words / Missing Elements Hermeneutic.” I have addressed this flawed hermeneutic in a three part series of articles that begin here:
Let me illustrate what I mean by the Missing Words / Missing Elements Hermeneutic:
A while back, I had a FaceBook exchange based on some comments that I, and other speakers, made during my speeches at the Preterist Pilgrim Weekend (July 18-20, 2013, in Ardmore, Ok.). I noted that the Garden of Eden was viewed by scholars and ancient rabbis alike as the original Temple of God. The objector claimed that this was false, because the word “Temple” is not used in Genesis 1-3. So, per the objector’s hermeneutic, the absence of a given word means that the idea, the theme, the motif, the doctrine, is not there. This is the “Missing Word Hermeneutic” on full display.
This similar hermeneutic is expressed by Dispensationalists when they argue that the word “church” is missing from Revelation 4-22. They likewise delineate between texts because certain words are used in one text, while they are missing from another. Thus, we have Thessalonians ostensibly predicting the rapture because it is Christ coming for the saints, while Matthew 24 is the Second Coming because it is Christ coming with the saints. (A closer look at the texts falsifies this false contrast however, as I demonstrate in my We Shall Meet Him In The Air, The Wedding of the King of kings book. Simply stated, there is no contrast between coming with the saints versus coming for the saints. Both passages have the “with” and the “for” in the context).
Kenneth Gentry rightly rejects the Dispensational hermeneutic. He says, “But how can this (the use of different words, or missing words in given texts, DKP) prove a distinction between the rapture and the second advent? … Why would Paul have to provide a whole complex of eschatological phenomena? The Dispensational argument is one from silence, based on a preconceived theory” (He Shall Have Dominion, 2009, 286). Amen! Gentry is patently correct. To establish a doctrine based on silence, i.e. a given word is missing in a text, is tenuous at the very best. And yet, what does Gentry do? Gentry delineates between texts and events, based on silence, i.e. the use of different words in given texts, with the attendant missing words!
For instance, Gentry claims that 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 refers to a final future coming of Christ, because it speak of, “‘everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord,’ being brought against the opposers of Christ.” (Interestingly, Keith Mathison and other postmillennialists differ with Gentry on 2 Thessalonians 1. Mathison believes that 2 Thessalonians 1 applies to AD 70. [Keith Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope, [Phillipsburg, New Jersey; P and R Publishing, 1999), 224+].
However Gentry applies 2 Thessalonians 2 to Christ’s judgment coming in AD 70. What are Gentry’s reasons for delineating between these texts? In Dominion, (1992, 388f), Gentry argues that the coming of 2 Thessalonians 1:10 is different from that of chapter 2 since in chapter 1, “Paul even employs a different word for the coming of Christ (elthe) than he does in 2:1 (parousia). There (chapter 1 DKP) the Second Advental judgment brings ‘everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord:’ here the temporal judgment makes no mention of these mighty angels (2:1-12).”
So, on the one hand, Gentry condemns the Dispensationalists for employing the Missing Word (Or Different Word) hermeneutic, but then employs that very hermeneutic to justify his own eschatology.
In similar vein, in my 2012 formal debate with Joel McDurmon, formerly Head of Research at American Vision (Gary DeMar’s organization) I appealed to Isaiah 24-27 among other texts. Paul said that the resurrection he anticipated and discussed in 1 Corinthians 15 would be in fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8. I provided extensive documentation to show that both Isaiah and Corinthians demand a first century fulfillment. Amazingly, McDurmon admitted that there was a first century (AD 70) fulfillment of 1 Corinthians 15, because the language of the text contains elements of imminence that cannot be ignored. This admission is simply stunning, needless to say, for no church fathers, no church creed contains a word about such a doctrine! My debate with McDurmon is available in book form, DVDs and MP3s.
So, how did McDurmon seek to escape the force of the texts in Isaiah and his own admission that 1 Corinthians 15 had a fulfillment in AD 70? Like Gentry, he adopted the Dispensational hermeneutic! He claimed, repeatedly, “I don’t see the word ‘final’ in Isaiah.”
In response, I noted several facts, illustrated with a chart:
Acts 1 omits certain words, contains different elements and uses different words, than does Thessalonians. Yet, McDurmon says these are the same comings in view. Of course, significantly, neither one of these texts uses the term “final coming,” either!
1 Thessalonians 4 uses totally different language than does 2 Peter 3, or Revelation 20, and does not contain the word “final.” But of course, McDurmon, Gentry, et. al, see all of these texts as speaking of the same “final” coming.
When I pointed all this out, and made the point that, “you cannot screw down apocalyptic language” in such a way as he was attempting to do, amazingly, McDurmon got up and said that was the very point he was making! Of course, this is nonsense. The fact is that he was completely trapped, and was so desperate to avoid the obvious that he falsely claimed that I was making his point. His desperation was glaring.
In another FB exchange, former preterists Sam Frost and William Vincent argued that since the words “Jerusalem,” “AD 70,” destruction of Jerusalem,” are not found in Acts 17:30-31, that this proves that the text cannot refer to the impending Jerusalem destruction.
Finally, just recently (August, 2020), Rod Stokes, who claims to be a preterist, wrote this, in a longer post attacking me:
//For my futurist brothers and sisters:
Important note: Did you also notice what was “not” said in Rev. 20:11-15? There is “nothing” mentioned about the “living.” This is highly significant, and dispels the view that this is an end of world, end of time, resurrection judgment. No, this is speaking of an “in time” resurrection judgment. This resurrection judgment had nothing to do with a supposed end of time judgment of every person dead or alive. This passage is about the resurrection judgment of the “dead” only. The timing was at the destruction of Babylon, Old Covenant Jerusalem. The fulfilling and complete “vanishing away” of the empty and obsolete covenant as spoken of in Hebrews 8:13 had now come in AD 70.
Do you notice how this passage does not talk about judging the “living.” Revelation is not about the end of time and physical heavens and earth, but was about the removal and dissolving of the old heavens and earth administration and world order, and the bringing in of the “new heavens and earth” administration and never ending kingdom through the blood of Christ.
I responded with the following (edited for brevity):
Your post above reveals the fallacy of your hermeneutic. You try to make this huge point of pointing out that Revelation:
//There is “nothing” mentioned about the “living.” This is highly significant, and dispels the view that this is an end of world, end of time, resurrection judgment. No, this is speaking of an “in time” resurrection judgment. This resurrection judgment had nothing to do with a supposed end of time judgment of every person dead or alive. //
Well, clearly, Revelation 20 is not about an end of time judgment- on that we agree. However, your hermeneutic is seriously flawed.
Is the judgment of Revelation 20 the same judgment as in 2 Timothy 4:1-2-
//I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word!//
What judgment was that, Rod Stokes? Is it the same judgment of Revelation 20? If not, you have created TWO COMINGS OF THE LORD TO OCCUR AT THE PAROUSIA, AFTER THE MILLENNIUM! IS THAT YOUR POSITION?
And then, we have 1 Peter 4:5, where Christ was “ready to judge the living and the dead.” Who was to be judged? THE LIVING, Rod Stokes!!
Tell us, Rod Stokes is this judgment– which would occur at the “end of all things” the same judgment as in Revelation 20, which would occur at the “end of all things”– i.e. the passing of heaven and earth”? IS IT THE SAME OR NOT?
So, you wanted to make a big deal out of Revelation 20 and the judgment and resurrection scene there, so, you need to step up and let us know:
Is the judgment of the living and the dead of 2 Timothy 4 and 1 Peter 4 the same judgment as in Revelation 20? YES or NO?
If these judgments are NOT the same, please tell us what is different about them, and tell us when the judgment of living and the dead of Timothy and Peter took — or will take– place, versus the judgment of Revelation 20.
The problem here is your Missing Words / Missing Elements Hermeneutic, that demands that every constituent element associated with a given doctrine be mentioned for a given text to be discussing the same doctrine as other texts that mention other elements. It is a ridiculous hermeneutic– and has jumped up and destroyed your preterism. After all, if you say that Timothy and Peter are fulfilled (AD 70) but, Revelation 20 is different, then you owe it to everyone here to identify when Revelation 20 was– or will be– fulfilled.
SHOW US THE DIFFERENCE IN THESE JUDGMENTS!!! WILL YOU DO IT?//
(Stokes “responded” to this post by claiming that I was simply trying to muddy the water and that he did not have to answer it, since I had not answered his question on Revelation 20, which he had posted earlier. The truth is that both Roy Runyon and I had both answered his question, so his claim was simply false. On 9-2-20, I responded to Stokes noting his refusal to deal with the material presented here. We shall see if he responds. I think I already know the answer).
The undeniable reality is that if Stokes stays true to his hermeneutic, that Revelation 20 cannot be an “end of time judgment” because the word “living” is missing from the text, then he must become a futurist based on what 2 Timothy and 1 Peter 4 predicted!
In other words, if, in Stokes’ view, a reference to the judgment of the “living and the dead” would demand an end of time judgment – which he implies in his comments– then 2 Timothy 4 and 1 Peter 4 demand an “end of time” judgment! Yet, Stokes, as a claimed full preterist, would deny this emphatically, claiming (properly) that the temporal imminence found in both 2 Timothy 4 and 1 Peter 4 preclude any application to our future. But, if Stokes would argue that 2 Timothy 4 and 1 Peter 4 was AD 70, and since he applies Revelation 20 to AD 70, that utterly falsifies his Missing Word Hermeneutic on Revelation 20! We are still waiting for Stokes to explain his position, since he has literally disappeared from that discussion- as of this writing.
In other FB discussions, the Missing Word / Missing Element argument has been made. One response that I have offered is that the very people making the arguments believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. I have, therefore, challenged several of them to present a single verse that uses the word “Trinity.” When challenged to produce such a text, they go silent!
Finally, just days ago on FaceBook, I received a question via Messenger asking me if Romans 10:9-10 negates the importance of baptism, since baptism is not mentioned. My response was that this is not the case, because if it was true, then one could argue with equal force that repentance is not necessary, since repentance is not mentioned!
Related to this issue is a discussion that I had on FaceBook in 2017- 2018. I was in an exchange with a church of Christ minister by the name of Kyle Massengale. He actually claimed that it is misguided to correlate Jesus’ teaching on the vindication of martyrs and the filling up of the measure of sin, in Matthew 23,with Paul’s teaching on that in 1 Corinthians 4:9 and Colossians 1:24f. He insisted that because given words, terms and phrases are missing from Paul, that are found in Jesus, that this proves that the texts speak of different times and events. I responded by pointing out that if his hermeneutic is valid, this proves that neither repentance or baptism is necessary to salvation, based on Romans 10:9-10. After all, neither repentance or baptism is mentioned in Romans 10. Thus, his own “Missing Words Hermeneutic” would destroy his personal theology. He realized that his “Missing Words / Missing Elements Hermeneutic had been exposed– and so, he disappeared from that discussion.
I hope at this point that the reader can see the fallacy of the Missing Words / Missing Elements Hermeneutic. To demand that every writer include every tenet, every motif, every element connected with a given doctrine would make the Bible one of the most cumbersome books– a huge, huge book!– in all of the world. The fact is that when studying scripture, or any literature, we must take the “holistic” approach. We must consider everything, every element, every tenet that is given in all the relevant texts, into consideration when formulating our doctrinal stand.
In closing, let me drive the point home by examining an “argument” that I hear increasingly, and that is: “Because Acts 1 does not contain an “at hand,” or “soon,” “coming quickly,” time statement, that means that Acts 1 was not to be fulfilled in the first century. It must be different from Matthew 16:27-28, or Matthew 24:29-34! This is the “Missing Word Hermeneutic” at work.
The famous commentator Milton Terry addressed this misguided claim years ago in his comments on Acts 1:
“Whatever the real nature of the parousia, as contemplated in this prophetic discourse, our Lord unmistakably associates it with the destruction of the temple and city, which he represents as the signal termination of the pre-Messianic age. The coming on clouds, the darkening of the heavens, the collapse of elements, are, as we have shown above, familiar forms of apocalyptic language, appropriated from the Hebrew prophets. “To make the one statement of the angel in Acts 1:11, override all the sayings of Jesus on the same subject and control their meaning is a very one-sided method of biblical interpretation. But all the angel’s words necessarily mean is that as Jesus has ascended into heaven so he will come from heaven. And this main thought agrees with the language of Jesus and the prophets.”
(Milton Terry (1898) Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ, (Grand Rapids; Baker Book House), 246-247).
What Terry was saying is that because one text does not mention a time statement, that does not mean that the time statements from other texts, that discuss the same subject, i.e. the coming of the Lord, it is improper to ignore or deny the application of the times statements in the text that does not specifically include or mention them. Terry was clearly correct.
We must strive, in our study of scripture, not to base our doctrine on Missing Words / Missing Elements, but, incorporate all that the Bible says on a given subject.
Source: Don K. Preston