Interpreting Scripture and Biblical Prophecy

It doesn’t matter what part of Scripture you’re studying, you must correctly interpret it.

But often folks interpret prophecy differently from the rest of the Bible. That isn’t right.

You must have a correct method of interpreting the Bible. This is called hermeneutics. The better grasp you have of the following, the better grasp you will have of not only Revelation, but of the whole counsel of God.

1.    The Right Way to Interpret Scripture

The following four points will help you see that the Bible must be interpreted by a consistently literal or normal method of interpretation.

1) Communication Depends on Words Having One Meaning on a Given Context

  • In a single context words can only have one meaning—they cannot have two or more meanings. If this were not the case, communication would be impossible, nothing but gibberish and nonsense!
  • There is a world of difference between a word being able to be used a number of different ways and a word in a single context having multiple meanings.

For example, consider the English word “run.” Webster’s says that this word can be used as a verb, a noun, and an adjective. As a verb it can be used 12 different ways if it doesn’t have an object and 15 different ways if it does have an object. When used as a noun it can have 12 different meanings, and when it’s an adjective it can have 3 different meanings.

So, while “run” can have at least 39 different meanings, when it is used in a sentence it has only one meaning. If it had more than that, how would you know which meaning it carried? You would never know what was meant then!

  • Because words only have one meaning in a given context, a passage in the Bible cannot have a “deeper” meaning or more than one meaning.

2) The Author Determines Meaning

  • When interpreting the Bible—regardless of whether it is poetry, history, epistle, gospel, or prophecy—the goal is to find out what the biblical author meant by a particular statement. A helpful, guiding principle is found in Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, p. 27—“A text cannot mean what it never meant.”
  • This principle will help you understand what a biblical passage did mean and what it did not mean.
  • Correctly interpreting the Bible results in giving the same meaning today that the biblical author intended when he wrote it.

3) The Unitary Authorship of Scripture

  • This focuses on who wrote the Bible.
  • Many people say that the Bible has a “dual authorship”—a human author and God. The problem here is that when you have two authors, you end up with two different messages! So instead of “dual authorship,” it is more biblically correct to think in terms of a united authorship.
  • The result of inspiration is a single message: What God said, the human author said; what the human author wrote, God wrote. The only way we can know what God meant is through the human author’s words. Principle:

 What the human author meant is what God meant.

4) The Meaning is Based in the Text

  • Where can we find what the biblical author meant? Only in the text. There is only one correct interpretation and meaning of a passage, and that is the one that the biblical author intended. There cannot be two or more different meanings to the same text.
  • How can we find out what the author meant? Through consistently interpreting Scripture with a grammatical-historical method of interpretation. What does that mean?

Grammatical: what the words mean and how they function
Historical: the setting of a biblical book (culture, geography, etc)

  • In order to find out what an author meant, you must study the meaning and use of words in a given text. You must understand the important historical and cultural factors that were present when the words were used. If you cannot “see” a meaning in a passage, it’s because it’s not there! The only way you will get a meaning foreign to a biblical text is by putting it in there.

2.   Some General Rules for Interpreting the Bible

1) Know the Context! (the book itself, the section of the book, the immediate context, and parallel passages)
2) Examine the Meaning of the Words
3) Know the Purpose of the Book
4) Understand the History and Culture of When it was Written (e.g. Esther)
5) Recognize the Type of Literature You’re Studying (called genre, e.g. narrative, poetry, epistle)
6) Compare Scripture with Scripture (coherent, unified, non-contradictory)
7) Be Aware of Figurative Language (trees clapping and Jesus is a door)

3.   Some Specific Rules for Interpreting Prophecy

1) Follow the Normal or Plain Sense Meaning of the Passage
2) Understand the Historical-Cultural Situation (particularly OT prophecy)
3) Recognize Figures of Speech
4) Note the Context
5) Recognize that Prophecy Focuses Primarily on the Messiah and the Establishing of His Kingdom based in Jerusalem
6) Since Every Fulfilled Prophecy was Literally Fulfilled Expect the Same of Unfulfilled Prophecies