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Berkhof on the dangers of micro-interpretation of parables and Biblical types.


Section of the Mandelbrot Fractal Set, illustrating the phenomenon of a form expanding and interpolating into the infinite redundancy of complex repetitive structures the deeper one goes. It makes for a pretty picture and implies impressive subterranean exegesis, yet leaves the meaning of the primary elements of a parable so far behind as to distract from and dilute their obvious top level, face value meaning.

“Great care should be taken not to ascribe independent spiritual significance to all the details of a parable. It is impossible to state precisely how far an expositor may go in this respect. The question of just what in the parable belongs to the ethical or doctrinal contents, and what to the mere delineation, does not admit of a clear-cut answer. A great deal must be left to common sense. The interpreter must make it a point to discriminate carefully. Failure to do this often led and is bound to lead to fanciful and arbitrary interpretations. In a general way, the rule laid down by Immer may be of some service: ‘What ministers to the fundamental thought or the intention of the parable, belongs to the doctrinal contents, but what does not minister thereto, is mere delineation.’…”


Providing the hearers thereunto are regenerate and their minds thus awakened and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, it is of sufficient impact in parable exposition to merely present a faithfully detailed projection of the basic top level form. The regenerate will understand, and only the unregenerate will be drawn by carnal curiosity into the endless and unfulfillingly answerless mazes of the lower levels so characteristic of the philosophy of the lost, “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 3:7″ “in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:16″. “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Luke 8:10″. To construct and explore deeper levels of a parable than at face value appear, is to defy Christ’s precise intent of a parable. Though its primary delineating elements will be in harmony with the whole, it was never designed to be microscopically dissected. Such deeper exegesis will merely waste the time of the lost and mislead the saved.

“…It will be instructive in this matter to study the explanations which the Lord gave of the parable of the Sower, and of that of the Wheat and Tares.”

From Louis Berkhof: ‘Principles of Biblical Interpretation’



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