Q&A: Atomistic Reading of the Prophets

Atomistic Reading of the Prophets

How do modern interpretors often read prophetic texts atomistically—that is, in isolation from their literary context?

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Interpreters today often will read texts apart from their literary context. One example of that in the Prophets is how people often interpret Ezekiel 28. I mean, Ezekiel 28 in context with Ezekiel 27 — it's in a series of oracles against nations — 27 and 28 are oracles against the prince of Tyre, but this prince of Tyre exalts himself, as ancient kings often did, acts as if he's divine, and so it addresses him as like, "you've made yourself a god." It calls him a covering cherub in the garden, in God's garden. And it goes on to talk about how he will die the death of a man in the heart of the seas — which is where Tyre was actually located at that point; it was an island kingdom — and how the wealth and the wisdom of Tyre would be brought to nothing. Well, people often say that that must be referring to Satan because Satan was a cherub in the Garden of Eden. Aside from the fact that, in Genesis 3:24, the cherubim were actually good characters in the Garden of Eden, they say, well, but no, it has to be a supernatural being because it says it's in the Garden of Eden. Well, if you read further in the context … you find out that Pharaoh was a tree in God's garden, and all these kings are called trees in God's garden. It's figurative language. And if we don't read the whole context, we won't get that.

Answer by Dr. Craig S. Keener

Dr. Craig Keener teaches New Testament studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.