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12.6. Ecclectic Interpretation

The final system of interpretation we discuss briefly is that of an eclectic interpretation. This system picks and chooses elements from each of the other interpretive systems and applies them at different places in the text. It is the ultimate “interpretive smorgasbord” whose proponents proclaim combines the best from each system. “The solution is to allow the preterist, idealist, and futurist methods to interact in such a way that the strengths are maximized and the weaknesses minimized.”1 This sounds appealing and is in keeping with the trend towards diversity so prevalent in our day. Rather than struggle within the restrictive framework of any one system, why not “have them all?”

The answer, once again, is hermeneutics, hermeneutics, hermeneutics! Thomas identifies the Achilles Heel of the eclectic approach: “It leaves to human judgment the determination of where the details of a text end and its general picture begins. Allowing this liberty for subjective opinion cannot qualify as objective interpretation.”2

One can’t simply combine the elements from disparate systems of interpretation, for they are often at odds with one another. Therefore, the subjectivity (a word to be avoided in interpretation) of the interpreter now rules over the choice of when to use which system. Obviously, different interpreters will make this decision differently across the text and the results will be as eclectic as the system itself. This, too, is a bad thing if you believe that God’s Word has one primary meaning which He desires all His saints to understand.

Taking one example from Beale:

Accordingly, no specific prophesied historical events are discerned in the book, except for the final coming of Christ to deliver and judge and to establish the final form of the kingdom in a consummated new creation—though there are a few exceptions to this rule. . . . ([e].g., Rev. Rev. 2:10+, Rev. 2:22+ and Rev. 3:9-10+, which are unconditional prophecies to be fulfilled imminently in the specific local churches of Smyrna, Thyatira, and Philadelphia).3

Here Beale arbitrarily and personally decides that “no specific prophesied historical events are discussed,” but then immediately makes equally arbitrary exceptions. And if things which are said to three of the seven churches can be held to be “unconditional prophecies,” why not the many other prophecies throughout the rest of the book? We submit that no two eclectic interpreters will make the same distinctions as to which portions of the text are to be treated historically, literally, symbolically, figuratively, or devotionally. Therefore, a reliable meaning cannot be derived from such an approach. This is not to say that futurists unanimously agree about the precise details of related matters, but it is easily demonstrated that they arrive at a much narrower variation in understanding—a cluster of “near hits” around the center of the target while the eclectic interpreters are scattered all over the target.

A growth in popularity of the eclectic interpretation is to be expected given our postmodern age, for the eclectic system of interpretation has much in common with it: First, the tendency to embrace all paths as being approximately equivalent; Second, the desire to avoid treating other views negatively; Third, the willingness to allow for a variety of interpretations of what truth is (your truth is your truth, my truth is my truth). The Word of God’s objective claim that there is a single path to truth undermines the claims of an eclectic approach much as it does the claims of postmodernism.

Those who advocate this view are often idealists who recognize some of the weaknesses of their system and desire to dabble in aspects of the other systems. The resulting interpretation is highly varied and idealistic in overall tone.


Notes

1 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 21.

2 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 35.

3 Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 48.