Thursday, July 30, 2015

Knight Jump Exegesis

Several years ago, I read an enthusiastic  Facebook post about a fantastic sermon that explained why true Christians would "rise to meet the Lord in the air" at the future "rapture of the church." The preacher had explained that since Satan was "the prince of the power of the air" that the church’s ascent into the air signaled the triumph of Jesus and his followers and ultimate defeat of Satan who obviously, at this point in God’s great scheme, had lost his "power" and princely rule over the air.

I responded to the post – my first mistake – by pointing out that the 2 biblical passages in question – I Thessalonians 4:17 and Ephesians 2:2 – had nothing to do with each other and were only related by the accidental keyword “air.”

I should have stopped there, but I continued. I said that making such an interpretive leap based on such a flimsy basis was exactly the kind of exegesis (biblical interpretation) for which Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are loudly criticized. This was my second mistake.

A barrage of Facebook responses quickly followed – all attacking my moral character, none responding to my point. The friendliest of the responses, knowing that I was a Florida native, stated that I had surely been in the sun too long. The harshest – from my former pastor’s granddaughter – simply pointed to James 1:8 that "a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."

Leaving aside several valid questions about my moral shortcomings and fundamental instability, no one had a word to say about my criticism of this highly questionable method of biblical interpretation.


Anthony Hoekema’s “The Four Major Cults” describes this type biblical interpretation as "knight-jump exegesis." Its practitioners "jump from one part of the Bible to another, with utter disregard of context, to ‘prove’ their points."

"The Bible, for them, is like a flat surface in which every text has equal value. They . . . can jump blithely from a passage in the Pentateuch to a passage in the prophets or in the book of Revelation. They can thus draw their lines in all directions through the Bible, gleefully combine them in zigzag fashion, and put them together again in the most fantastic way."

Like a knight in a game of chess that jumps over other pieces, making abrupt turns to the right and then the left, these biblical interpreters  often string together disparate passages of different genres, different historical contexts, and wildly different meanings by connecting them around shared keywords and little more.


Here is a perfect example – taken not from the Latter Day Saints or the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society, but from a well-respected teacher in my Pentecostal youth:

Hosea 6: 2

“After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.”

II Peter 3:8

“. . . one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Revelation 20:4

“. . . and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”

Here is the rather bizarre conclusion drawn from these passages linked only by the keywords “day” and “thousand” (and deeply rooted in the assumptions of John Nelson Darby’s dispensational views of the end time).

Israel has fallen out of God’s favor due to their rejection of Jesus and God has turned to the Gentiles instead. But this rejection of the Jews will last only 2000 years (2 days @ 1000 years each) and then God will return favor to the Jews on the “third day,” a thousand year millennial reign (even though those that reign with Christ in Revelation 20 are clearly stated to be resurrected Christian martyrs, not the Jewish nation).

The ultimate conclusion of this biblical “sleight of hand” was that the millennial reign of the Jews will begin on or near the year 2000 and therefore the return of Christ must occur before this date.



The church of Jesus Christ has always appealed to the “analogy of faith” to best interpret the scriptures. The Westminster Confession states:

"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."

Succinctly – and maybe over simply – difficult biblical passages should be interpreted by those that are more easily understood AND the interpretation any specific passage must be made in light of the larger message of the entire biblical witness.

I may be unstable in MOST of my ways, but not in my biblical interpretation.


  1. Another "knight jump" from days of yore was the "now faith" sermon, from Hebrews 11:1. "Now faith...", it was preached, was current faith--faith for the moment--faith in the here and now. Totally absent was any contextual continuity in which the word "now" was simply taken as a transitional word in the passage, "Now the substance of things hope for..." The double irony is that the word "now" is not even in the Greek text of Hebrews 11:1 in any extant manuscript. The Greek transitional word is "but", though I doubt if we wish to preach a sermon about "but faith". There is a word for "now" in NT Greek, but this was not it!

  2. Dan:

    What about the equation of John 3:5 – “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” and Acts 2:38 – “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”? Is this knight-jump exegesis?

    Laying aside all the implications we may have previously held of these verses, I do think both speak of water baptism in the early Christian community and the end time outpouring of the Holy Spirit as prophesied in Joel 2:28.

    In the past, I have resisted a fairly heavy-handed identification of “birth of water” with baptism, but of late I have become too aware of the sacramentalism that permeates every page of John’s gospel to not, at least, give the baptismal understanding of this passage a fair hearing.

    Similarly, while I cannot accept the one-sided individualism of the Pentecostal equation of the outpouring of the Spirit as an individual religious experience that fails to see the eschatological “once-for-all” nature of the Spirit’s outpouring, I must see Acts 2:38 as the culmination (the concluding challenge) of Peter’s sermon/exposition on Joel 2:28.

    Admittedly, I find a one-to-one, exact equation of the words “born of water” and “baptized in the name of Jesus” and “born of spirit” and “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (probably derived in early Pentecostalism from Adam Clarke’s notes on John 3:5 in his widely read “Commentary on the Bible”) more than a little troublesome – especially when these terms are recast as formulaic “steps” in Christian conversion and defined as a singular test of “full” or “true” Christian salvation. After all, these are just a few among the many “word pictures” describing Christian salvation in New Testament writings. And to focus solely on one small part is to miss the richness of the whole. The “plan of salvation” – as I once so indelicately said – is the New testament as a whole.

    Nevertheless, I do not think that it is a “knight jump” from John 3:5 to Act 2:38. In my opinion, both speak – in different ways – of the same things: the defining centrality of the ceremony of water baptism in early Christianity and the absolute necessity to personally partake in God’s great end time action – the outpouring of the Spirit which knows no boundary: geographic, economic, sexual or cultural.