Parameter Fulfillment: A Newly-Defined Interpretational Principle
by Ed Vasicek
This is a preliminary study in Sacred Logic, a theme that should be, in my opinion, a subcategory of Biblical Hermeneutics. In a sense, this paper is launching such a theme with a clear-cut example of how Sacred Logic differs from Western Logic. Although I believe in absolute, objective truth, the thought processes we see in Scripture presents and elaborates that truth in a way that differs (slightly) from common western logic. If such is the case, and if the Bible is the God-breathed, inspired, and inerrant Word of the Lord, then its logic must, of necessity, be Divine (thus Sacred) Logic.
But how can truth be objective and absolute and yet not conform to standard Western Logic? The only answer is that Western Logic is not in complete harmony with the mind of God, a concept that should not surprise anyone who reads Scripture.
Let me illustrate how objective truth can exist within two logic systems. I have a Macintosh computer in my office and a Windows PC in my home. Yet I share and edit files between them. If we think of the text as truth and the two operating systems as organizers of truth (systems of logic), we have a perfect illustration. The two operating systems are not exactly the same, but they display the same text. Like truth, the text stays the same. But the computers have differing processes when it comes time to display that information. Hence one job of the interpreter is to translate between the two logical systems.
We can determine the principles of Sacred Logic by careful, patient, and prayerful observation. Then, once we have developed our hypothesis, we must test it with Scripture time and time again to see if our theory passes the test.
This paper is about an obvious principle of Divine Logic. The principle is crucial, for it unlocks many passages and sorts out a number of supposed contradictions in Scripture. It brings freedom, clarity, and harmony to the objective interpreter.
Parameter Fulfillment (abbreviated as PF) is a concept clearly evident in Scripture, in my estimate. It is connected to the distinction between correlation and cause. Let me roll out the principle boldly and clearly: If the conditions (correlates) around a prophecy or promise are matched, the promise will be realized in some way (but not necessarily completely fulfilled).
The Two Directions (Major Categories) of Parameter Fulfillment
Parameter Fulfillment can take two directions. (1) Practical Possibility: the promise/prophecy will only be completely fulfilled when God causes it to be completely fulfilled. If and when the parameters (or conditions) of the promise are somehow met, the promise will be fulfilled in some way even if not in the final, literal way. (2) Impractical Idealism: God may offer to fulfill a promise completely when humans fulfill specific criteria, but it may be realistically impossible for humans to actually fulfill that criteria (though possible perhaps only on paper). A case in point would be the offer of the Kingdom to first century Israel (even though it was in God's plan for the nation to reject their Messiah) or the command by Jesus for His followers to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
These two directions (major categories) will be subcategorized later in this paper.
Correlation and Cause: Sacred Logic vs. Western Logic
In modern western thinking, logicians are careful to distinguish between a correlation and a cause. Two events may occur together, but that does not necessarily mean that one event or condition causes the other. As a Wikipedia article states it, "the idea that correlation proves causation, is a logical fallacy by which two events that occur together are claimed to have a cause and effect relationship." During the winter I wear a heavy coat. It sometimes snows in the winter but never in the summer. I never wear my coat in the summer. This does not mean my coat brings on the snow. They are correlated (associated together), but one does not cause the other.
But when we are dealing with Scripture, we seem to find this pattern: If man can replicate the conditions (correlates) of the prophecy, the prophecy could (in theory) be fulfilled in some way (or even fully).
Although modern western logic distinguishes between correlation and cause, sacred logic may or may not do so. As we shall see, the Scriptures do show evidence of distinction between cause and correlation, but, in other instances it seems, God honors correlations as well as causes. Humans are therefore sometimes presented with the option of realizing the promise by creating the correlations surrounding the promise/prophecy (whether actually possible or not).
Here is an example of correlation thinking (apart from Scripture). When we are in heaven (redeemed in the fullest sense), we will be sinless. Therefore, if we become sinless on earth, we will enter the Kingdom of God because we match the condition of those in heaven. This, I believe, was Jesus' logic with the rich, young ruler.
We know we are sinners and such will be our lot until we indeed are in heaven, and we know that salvation is by grace, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). An offer like that above will never be realized. It might be offered, but it will not be actualized.
Let me demonstrate how Biblical examples deductively confirm the theory of Parameter Fulfillment. The Bible provides us with a generous number of examples, so we will peruse but a few.
All Israel Will Be Saved
Zechariah 12-13 (see especially Zechariah 12:10 and 13:8-9) tells us that at the end of the Tribulation (Armageddon), all surviving Israel will believe and be converted. Paul chimes in and says, "And so all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26a), meaning, in my opinion, all Israel as it exists just before Christ returns to reign. Second Peter tells us that we can hasten the Day of the Lord (3:12 reads, "as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming"). What Peter is apparently saying is that as we evangelize (the Jewish people in particular and others as well), we could theoretically meet the conditions of Zechariah (when all Israel believes) and thus hurry the Millennium.
The Rabbis (as seen in the Talmud) expressed this same correlation belief. Rather than believing that the Messiah would come in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4), according to God's plan, they believed that creating Messianic conditions would bring the Messiah. We will see later that Peter apparently embraced the same idea.
R. Johanan also said:
The son of David will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked. in a generation that is altogether righteous, as it is written, Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever. Or altogether wicked, as it is written, And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor, and it is [elsewhere] written, For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it.
R. Alexandri said:
R. Joshua b. Levi pointed out a contradiction. it is written, in its time [will the Messiah come], whilst it is also written, I [the Lord] will hasten it. if they are worthy, I will hasten it: if not, [he will come] at the due time. R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven whilst [elsewhere] it is written, [behold, thy king cometh unto thee lowly, and riding upon an ass. if they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven, if not, lowly and riding upon an ass. King Shapur [I] said to Samuel, Ye maintain that the Messiah will come upon an ass: I will rather send him a white horse of mine. (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin Folio 98a)
There is, obviously, a great distinction between what Peter wrote as inspired, authoritative, inerrant Scripture and what the rabbis and sages wrote (mere opinion). Still, let me call attention to the convergence of mental framework. Both Peter and the sages are teaching that if we can successfully reproduce kingdom conditions, the kingdom will come. If we could bring about the Utopian conditions of Christ's reign, Christ would, in effect, be reigning.
We could see how the PostMillennial viewpoint espoused by optimistic Christians in the early 20th century confused correlation with cause. The Scriptures are clear (in my opinion) that Christ will return in the midst of the Battle of Armageddon, the bloodiest war of all times. But I would give the PostMillennialists this much credit: if we did create Millennial conditions, God might honor that by establishing His rule on earth. But that "if" is not even a possibility. It simply will not happen that way. Nonetheless, the potential is there in theory.
The Offer of the Kingdom to the Jews by Peter
Acts 3:19-21 has to be one of the most important (and neglected) texts of Biblical Hermeneutics. Many Christians would claim they never heard or read such verses. But I did not invent them. Peter is preaching to the Jews, when he proclaims, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets."
Although not all readers will agree that this is obviously a promise of the Millennial Reign of Christ, to me it seems evident. It appears that this verse is making an offer to the children of Israel: If enough of you repent and turn to Jesus, He will return and set up His Kingdom on the earth. Again, as per the Zechariah/Romans example above, the return of Christ is connected to meeting the parameters of a believing Israel.
The Sermon on the Mount and the Offer to Israel
Although much of the Sermon on the Mount is an exposition and application (Midrash) of Torah to issues in first century Israel, part of the Sermon on the Mount is about meeting parameters, in my estimate.
If the nation of Israel would reproduce the spiritual conditions of the Kingdom by repenting and receiving the promised Messiah, then the Millennial reign of Christ would soon be at hand. This certainly was not in the Sovereign plan of God, and so it could not have happened otherwise. But still, the correlation principle stands: if the people would have received Jesus and His message, then God would have brought in the Millennium.
Yet the people would not and could not meet those conditions (indeed, God even hardened their hearts, according to John 12:40). The Kingdom of God was truly at hand--potentially and theoretically. And, in a sense, the Kingdom of God has in fact been realized in some form because some people did repent and believe and thus partially met the parameters. Yet its full form is yet future when the parameters of the Kingdom are met fully because God Himself will make it so. Man, of his own accord, could never meet those parameters.
Some might argue that God only knows what is (a.k.a. "Open Theism"), not what might have been (in theory). But this position is difficult to maintain in light of 1 Samuel 23:10-13:
David said, "O LORD, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, God of Israel, tell your servant." And the LORD said, "He will." Again David asked, "Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?" And the LORD said, "They will." So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there."
God made and makes offers knowing that they will be rejected. He knows what will be and what could have been.
Elijah and Jehoash
As is already obvious, this correlation principle frequently involves the paradox between the Sovereign will of God and human responsibility. We see a prime case in 2 Kings 13:18ff involving Elijah and Jehoash:
Then he said, "Take the arrows," and the king took them. Elisha told him, "Strike the ground." He struck it three times and stopped. The man of God was angry with him and said, "You should have struck the ground five or six times, then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times."
As we ponder this text, do we really believe that the king determined the nature of his victory over Aram by how often he struck the ground? Or did his behavior merely disclose what God had decreed? If you agree with me that the latter is the case, you can see here how correlation is exchanged for cause. Yet the text leaves us with no doubt that IF the king had struck the staff five or six times, Aram would have been completely defeated. Yet, in God's plan, the king could not have done so.
Jesus and the Doubting Baptist
Jesus seemed to fully embrace the idea of Parameter Fulfillment when He answered the doubt of John the Baptist. Note Matthew 11:2-6 in light of the Parameter Fulfillment theory:
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
Note how, in a sense, Jesus brought in a form of the Kingdom (but not the Millennium for which we are still waiting) because Jesus met the parameters of the Kingdom Messiah. The literal Millennium will break forth in the future, but there is a sense in which God honored the parameters met by Jesus, thus God initiated the current Mystery form of the Kingdom. This was according to plan, but not clearly revealed plan.
Baptism and/or Good Works: The Cause of Salvation or Its Correlation?
Since baptism is associated with salvation and/or repentance, it is sometimes used in place of the invisible concepts of repentance and conversion because it is correlated. Converts almost always showed their spirit of repentance by submitting to baptism in the New Testament.
The correlation between baptism and salvation has been misunderstood throughout the centuries by Catholics and Campbellites alike. Because modern western logic thinks in terms of cause and effect--and not correlation, there seems to be two separate tracks in our minds. One track seems to suggest that salvation is totally by God's grace through faith alone. Another track seems to imply that man and God work together and that human effort is required for one to be saved (monergism vs. synergism).
This seeming contradiction is cleared up when we understand Parameter Fulfillment. Baptism (in the NT only) and good works (in both testaments) are associated with salvation. In my view, monergism is the actual cause of salvation, while synergism is the seeming correlation.
Take Jesus' words in John 5:28-29: "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned."
A casual reader might conclude that this teaches salvation by works. Indeed, the average man on the street believes in this Christless salvation. If your good deeds outweigh your bad ones, you will inherit eternal life.
But when we understand Parameter Fulfillment, we recognize that association (or correlation) is not the same as cause, though the Scriptural authors often do not make this clear to the western reader.
The fact is that sinful men cannot do good in God's eyes (Romans 8:8) and only those who are spiritually alive (regenerate) will have a place in the Kingdom of God (John 3:1-16). But good works are correlated with saving faith, even though the works do not contribute to our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10). Good works are the evidence (or result) of salvation.
Thus we can measure the reality of one's salvation by good works and the genuineness of faith by good works (James 2:17-19). Like a reading on a thermometer, the thermometer does not cause the temperature, it merely indicates it.
Yet the Biblical authors frequently do not distinguish between cause and correlation. It is not that they were incapable of doing so, for they do at times.
One passage is particularly interesting. In his presentation, the apostle Peter begins sharing what might seem to be a cause, but is actually a correlation. He decides to clarify himself so that correlation and cause are made distinct.
We read in 1 Peter 3:21: "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Here, Peter is beginning to say that baptism saves us, but baptism is really the correlation to salvation. It is actually the internal change within that saves us, a repentance that is grounded to faith in the Gospel (partly suggested by reference to the resurrection).
The simple truth about salvation is this: one must be regenerate (born again) in order to be saved. This is true in both testaments (hence Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand this, as an Old Testament scholar). Those who are regenerate will show their new life by obedience and good works which, depending upon one's understanding, may or may not include immersion. But regeneration is the cause and its correlates (associated behaviors) include baptism, good works, confessing Christ as Lord, and faithfulness.
This concept is similar to what Bullinger calls, Metonymy of the Effect or Metonymy of Cause where cause is replaced by effect or effect cause (see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, Baker, 1981 printing, pp. 538ff).
The Second Coming of Christ and the Mount of Transfiguration
In Matthew 16:27-28 we read: "For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
In Matthew 17, the Gospel sequentially records the Mount of Transfiguration event, a brief visit into the Millennial Kingdom Age.
Please note that Peter interprets this event as the coming of Christ, a near, less literal fulfillment. Note 2 Peter 1:16-18:
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased" and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
Although admittedly open to more than one interpretation, it seems Peter is referring to the Second Coming of Christ when he says, "power and coming," especially since Christ came the first time gently and humbly, but will come in power at His Second Coming.
In my opinion, Peter is saying that, in some way, He witnessed the Second Coming of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Clearly the New Testament leaves us awaiting the literal Kingdom Age, the millennial coming of Christ, and a distant, more literal reign of Christ. Yet the parameters of the Millennium were met when Jesus was glorified and communing with Moses and Elijah. This is a prime example of what I mean by Parameter Fulfillment.
As I stated earlier, If the conditions (correlates) around a prophecy or promise are matched, the promise will be realized in some way (but not necessarily completely fulfilled). In the case of the Transfiguration, since the parameters were met, the Kingdom, in a sense, was here.
John the Baptist and Elijah
In Matthew 11:14, Jesus describes John the Baptist: "And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come."
Speaking of himself in John 1:21a, John denies that he is Elijah, "They asked him, 'Then who are you? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.'"
In Luke 1:17a, the angel states to John's father, Zechariah, "And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah."
The implication seems obvious, John was an Elijah substitute; he could meet the parameter of the return of Elijah in Malachi 4:5, "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes." Yet God did not plan for Israel to receive the Messiah at His first coming.
So John met the Elijah parameter in some way, but Elijah will literally return before the Millennium (possibly one of the two witnesses of Revelation).
Subcategorization of Parameter Fulfillment
Since this is a very tentative and postulating paper, let me begin listing several areas in which Parameter Fulfillment (PF) comes into play:
Prophecies (including double fulfillment)
The Second Coming of Christ and the Mount of Transfiguration are cases in point. So is the Virgin Birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.
Unconditional Promises/Certainties (guaranteed to be met)
If you believe in the doctrine of perseverance (eternal security), you can see how the admonitions to remain faithful and endure to the end are correlated with the idea that we are safe and secure and cannot lose our salvation since we are kept by the power of God. Our faithfulness is correlated with our security, but does not necessarily cause our security.
We can also see how Jesus could be God in the flesh and yet tempted to sin. Since temptation is correlated to sin but does not cause sin, Jesus could be tempted to sin but never made to sin.
Theoretically Conditional Promises (the conditions of which could somewhat be met)
The New Covenant fits perfectly into this category and the category above at the same time. Since the Messiah established the New Covenant with His followers (those Who did receive Him, according to John 1:12), we are New Covenant believers.
Yet, God will see to it that all Israel will believe near the end times, for according to Jeremiah 31:31-34, the New Covenant is a sovereign act God performs upon the nation of Israel, regenerating them all.
Theoretical Conditional Promises (the conditions of which could or would never be met)
The rich young ruler (salvation by keeping commandments)
Acts 3:19-21, as pointed out above is fascinating. Here, Peter is telling the Jews that if the nation would get its spiritual house in order by repenting and embracing Jesus as the Messiah, the Kingdom (Millennium) would be established shortly after these conditions were met.
Correlation treated as cause
Scripture is replete with examples of PF and the exchange of correlation for cause. Sometimes an associated circumstance (correlate) is used as the cause itself. A casual reader of Genesis will conclude that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of sexual perversion (Genesis 18-19 passim), yet Ezekiel states this in Ezekiel 16:49-50: "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."
Here, secondary or extenuating causes are replaced for primary causes. The sense one gets from reading Genesis 18-19 passim (perversion) is the clear reason God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. But Ezekiel hones in on other sins, that, by themselves, would probably not have resulted in Sodom's demise. They simply accompanied the practice of Sodomy.
We see something similar in Jonah 4:11, where God is defending His desire to show mercy to Nineveh, "But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"
Reading such a verse, one has to ask how large a part Nineveh's cattle played in God's decision to be merciful. The primary cause of God's desire to have mercy upon Nineveh was His concern for the people of Nineveh. The cattle went along with the deal--a correlation.
Parameter Fulfillment, by acknowledging a logical system that does not always distinguish correlation from cause, is a tool for the Biblical interpreter to enter into the thinking of the human authors of the Bible and our gracious God Who inspired the written Word of God.
It is somewhat different from the way we think, but the pattern is clear in Scripture. If we simply apply the pattern we do find in the Bible to interpreting the Bible, we will find that we can more easily harmonize passages that seemed to defy harmonization.
Lord willing, coming down the road...Parameter Fulfillment applied to the paradox of God's Sovereignty and man's freewill, the New Covenant, and more!