A "Pardonable Craving for the Concrete"
"By these colorful features (in 1 Thess. 4) Paul makes for us even more grandiose and impressive what under all circumstances cannot help being a scene of intense realism. They furnish practically the only material on which our imagination can draw for filling out the large frame of the canvas. It were wrong undoubtedly to reduce all the things mentioned to the rubric of figurative language, in regard to which the author is aware of painting freely, rather than of copying the solid content of prophecy given him by the Spirit. On the other hand we should not overlook the equally obvious fact, that in painting by words, even with the fullest intent of accuracy, the Apostle had to avail himself of a fixed medium of language, which left room for a margin of over-literalism, and whose interpretation by others, while seemingly in full accord with the words recorded, nevertheless may introduce an ingredient of inadequacy when compared with the actual intent of Paul. We have here before us a striking example of the possibility of over-stressing the literalness of the language and imagery used, and yet, while thus seeming to do justice to the writer's speech, missing in reality the deeper and finer qualities and objectives of his true conception. The literalistic may appear to our human vision nearer the real, and yet, owing to our pardonable craving for the concrete, be more subjective than the spiritualized." -- Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, p. 142