Friday, March 30, 2007

"The Polar Plunge Prophecy" -- Why Good Hermeneutics is So Important

What follows is an e-mail conversation I had a few weeks ago with a concerned member of my community. Here’s the first e-mail I received from Jane (not her real name).

“I am an intercessor at [name of church] and I have, through prayer, been concerned that harm may be planned against the police and the Special Olympics by the gangs and their death threats that were reported in the news. I've met with chaplains for firemen and now with intercessors for the county this past weekend. Jeremiah 1 was given as a warning. These 30 people are praying for me and I got back to our area and saw the ad about the festival for the Castaic area. I also saw the article in The Signal about the Aryan Brotherhood. All these death threats towards the police and the simple-minded are bad and both groups [police and Special Olympics] that the gangs hate being at one location is big trouble for us here in the Santa Clarita Valley and Los Angeles. COULD YOU PLEASE CONTACT ME AND TELL ME WHAT YOU HAVE DONE IN RESPONSE TO THIS EMAIL?”

The event to which Jane was referring was a Special Olympic fundraiser called “The Polar Plunge”, which was sponsored and hosted by the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station and the local chapter of the Special Olympics organization. Event participants raised donations by collecting sponsors. Sponsors agreed to give a donation, the size of which would be determined by how many hours the participant spent in the frigid, 55-degree water of Castaic Lake.

This year marked the second year for the event. Last year’s effort raised $9,000.00 to support local and national Special Olympic activities.

Here’s my response to Jane’s e-mail:


“Thank you for sharing your concern.

“I’m not sure what you mean by saying, ‘Jeremiah 1 was given as a warning.’ Since Jeremiah 1, specifically verses 14-16, is a prophecy regarding the pending invasion of Judah by Babylon and her allies, I do not see how it could apply to ‘The Polar Plunge’ fundraiser event scheduled for March 10, in Castaic.

“While I will certainly join you in praying for the safety of all of the event participants and spectators, beyond that I'm not sure what more you would have me do in response to your message. If you have any tangible evidence that there is a specific threat against the event or event participants, I will gladly pass it along to the appropriate agencies.”

I could sense Jane’s frustration as I read her reply.

“Are you aware of the article in The Signal [about] the death threats to the police and their families? I know someone whose friend got one recently and she is a police wife. These men have gone to the courts to get their names and addresses off of the record and the gangs are hacking their addresses from credit card information.

“A lot of police live up here and I know that the Aryan Brotherhood hates the mentally retarded, and that they think that they should not live. You put these two groups of people in one place together and it is an opportunity for that twisted mindset to do something horrible.

“What I got from the Lord was a warning that disaster was on the way. A boiling pot or cauldron has liquid in it and so does the lake. And we are located in the north. I'm even checking the source of waterways to see if there could be bad industrial or pesticide-laden water there.

“I am new to all of this but I do know I was warned before the [brush] fires through Scripture. I can tell you that there are multiple prayer groups across the US that are praying about this right now that took it seriously.

“I took the towns of Judah to be like all the towns we have here: Valencia, Newhall, etc. If there is more I can help you with I’ll contact you. Thank you for responding.”

My response to Jane was as follows:


“I have served as a deputy sheriff and chaplain in this community for twenty years, so I am very aware of the inherent risks to officers and their families. With all due respect, your application of Jeremiah 1 to what you believe you heard from the Lord is a misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture. You must be very careful not to take Scripture out of context. To force a meaning into Scripture is called eisegesis, which is the wrong way to approach Scripture. We should always practice exegesis when approaching the Word of God, which is to draw the true meaning from the text and to apply it in its proper context.

“Again, respectfully, Jeremiah 1 has nothing whatsoever to do with Castaic Lake, North Los Angeles County, mentally retarded people, police officers, and/or the Aryan Brotherhood. It is a specific prophecy about the pending attack upon Judah, by the Babylonians. The fact that you are misinterpreting and misapplying Jeremiah 1 should show you that what you have allegedly heard is not from the Lord, because He would not contradict His own Word. Please consider these things carefully.

“I am praying for you.”

While I had hoped that the conversation would continue, seeing it as I did—as an opportunity to disciple another believer, I am not surprised that I have not heard again from Jane. I have no doubt Jane was sincere. I have no doubt that Jane was well intentioned when she contacted me. I am likewise sure that Jane truly believed her own prophecy, which made her correspondences all the more troubling.

March 10th marked the day of the big event. A couple hundred participants, including community members, Special Olympians, and deputy sheriffs, took the plunge. By all accounts the day was a huge success. I personally talked to one of the event organizers and he said the event went off without a hitch. The community came out in force to support the participants and to enjoy a day at the lake. Whereas last year’s event raised $9,000 for Special Olympics, this year’s efforts raised more than $50,000!

The Polar Plunge Prophecy did not come to pass. It was a false prophecy.

I share this story, not for the purpose of debating whether or not the gift of prophecy (in its predictive, foretelling form) is operative today in the lives of Christians. Genuine followers of Jesus Christ are on both sides of the fence regarding the issue. The reason I share this story is that it serves as a prime example of what can happen when Christians, or anyone else for that matter, mishandle the Word of God.

Jeremiah 1:14-16 says, “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Out of the north the evil will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the families of the kingdoms of the north,’ declares the Lord; ‘and they will come, and they will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all its walls round about, and against all the cities of Judah. And I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands.’”

As I tried to explain to Jane, Jeremiah’s prophecy (which was fulfilled) dealt specifically with the invasion of the Babylonians and their allies against Judah. If Jane had looked at and studied the passage from a historical-grammatical perspective, she would not have associated an ancient, fulfilled prophecy with a 21st Century Special Olympics fundraiser, in Southern California.

Here are two very important terms for any serious student of the Bible. The first is to be applied by every student of the Word. The second is not. (The following definitions were taken from

Exegesis — a theological term used to describe an approach to interpreting a passage in the Bible by critical analysis. Proper exegesis includes using the context around the passage, comparing it with other parts of the Bible, and applying an understanding of the language and customs of the time of the writing, in an attempt to understand clearly what the original writer intended to convey. In other words, it is trying to “pull out” of the passage the meaning inherent in it.

Eisegesis — a theological term used to describe an approach to interpreting a passage in the Bible by “reading into” the passage a meaning that is not evident at all by the passage itself, or the context in which it appears in the Bible. Thus eisegesis is usually perceived as a negative term, and indicates that the person using the method of eisegesis is not being intellectually honest. Instead, he is coming to the passage with a pre-conceived notion on a particular doctrinal matter, and wishing to force the passage to fit that preconceived notion.

Here are some keys to help you avoid misinterpreting Scripture (This is not an exhaustive list, but it will help you to get started in the right direction.):

1. Observation. Begin your study of any verse or passage by answering three basic questions. What does the verse or passage actually say? What does the verse or passage not say? And what questions come to mind as a read this verse or passage? Good Bible study never begins with interpretation. It always begins with observation.

2. Near and Far Context. In order to rightly understand a verse or passage, the verse or passage must be interpreted in light of what is going on before and after the verse or passage in question. Begin by looking at the verses immediately before and after the verse or passage you are studying. Once you have done that, broaden your observation to the beginning of the chapter, and then to the entire book. How does the verse or passage you are studying fit into the overall theme of the book?

3. Let Scripture Interpret Scripture. God is not schizophrenic; and neither is His Book. God’s Word will not contradict itself. Cross-referencing is a good way to avoid taking select verses or passages and interpreting them in a vacuum. If your interpretation of Scripture contradicts other clear verses or passages, then you should be confident that the misunderstanding is on your end—not Scripture’s.

4. Interpret Historically. Ask the basic investigative questions. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Interpret a verse or passage in light of what the answers to these questions would have been at the time of the original writing. This is a mistake Jane made in her prophecy about the Polar Plunge.

5. Learn from Good Teachers. Once you have done the heavy lifting by opening the Word of God and studying it for yourself, turn to teachers who are known for rightly dividing the Word of God and see what they have to say (commentaries) about the verse or passage you are studying. Other resources that will be useful include biblical maps and charts, archaeological studies, etc.

6. Trust the Holy Spirit to Lead You. If you are a born-again follower of Jesus Christ, you have the Holy Spirit as your helper. Trust Him, through prayer and meditation upon the Word of God, to reveal to you the right interpretation of Scripture. Keep in mind that the right interpretation of Scripture is not based on what you want to hear or believe, or your feelings. The right interpretation of Scripture is based on truth—God’s truth.

Here are some excellent resources to help you learn how to study the Bible.

1. Living By The Book, by Howard Hendricks

2. Evangelical Hermeneutics, by Robert Thomas

3. Basic Bible Interpretation, by Roy Zuck

4. Biblical Hermeneutics, by Milton Terry

5. How To Study the Bible, by John MacArthur

6. How To Study the Bible, by Richard Mayhue

1 comment:

Chisso said...

Thanks Tony, this is really helpful.