The (Not Rocket) Science of Biblical Interpretation :: By Donald Whitchard
Deuteronomy 17:19, Isaiah 34:16, Daniel 9:2, John 5:39, Acts 17:11,2 Timothy 2:15
Summary: If we are to understand biblical prophecy or any challenging topic within the pages of Scripture, we need to lay down guidelines on how to correctly interpret what we are reading.
When we take the time to look over the contents of the book of Revelation, it is plain to see that what is being presented is not a collection of vague phrases, thoughts, or symbols in which we are left to guess their meaning or relevance. Revelation, like all other books of the Bible, is meant to be carefully read, diligently studied, clearly understood, and gradually applied to our lives as part of our expected maturation as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Any serious study of Scripture on our part demonstrates that we want to advance in our spiritual journey and go beyond ingesting the “milk” of basic belief.
Like the fertile soil of Jesus’ parable (Mark 4:1-20), the seed of the Gospel has entrenched itself deep within our soul, and we want to venture further into what it means not only to follow Jesus but to gain a deeper understanding of and love for His Word. All of this is a viable sign of spiritual maturity and the beginning of a great harvest.
In this message, I want to present the basics of proper biblical interpretation in order that you get a clear picture of what not only Revelation but the whole of Scripture has to tell us in order that we not only grow in our faith but also have the tools and knowledge necessary to fight the good fight of faith and be able to withstand any false or misleading doctrines that are all too common in these closing days of history and the soon return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Twenty-first-century Christianity, as I see it, boils down to the fact that few “believers” know little or any of the content within the pages of Scripture. We have turned into a nation of biblical illiterates sitting among treasure troves of knowledge available on the internet and other media. More people can give you the names of ten brands of beer yet fail to name one of the Ten Commandments. There are church members who cannot list the names of the four Gospel writers. There are so-called “teachers” who wax eloquent on “personal revelation” and “new words of God” that the spiritually gullible devour like pigs in slop. I have heard the most outlandish, ridiculous, and stupid things coming from the mouths of so-called “preachers” who embellish their experiences, outlandish stories, and emotional outbursts over sound doctrine and the truth of Scripture.
All of this is both an insult and demeaning of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, setting the progress of the Gospel in a direction leading to ridicule and mockery by those whom we are trying to reach with the only message that will rescue them from an eternity in a very real hell.
Now that I have your attention, let us proceed to the heart of the matter. We are going to apply what is known as the literal interpretation of Scripture when we begin reading and studying the contents within Revelation. The first thing to know is that the book of Revelation is a literal description of the historical events that take place in both the natural and supernatural realm of God’s creation. A literal interpretation is the way for anyone possessing normal intelligence would understand the text without having to rely on the use or necessity of “special codes” or “keys” that “unlock” some kind of mystery.
(Sorry, gang, Scooby-Doo and those “meddling kids” are not going to solve this one for you. Correct interpretation of biblical texts is your responsibility.)
Scripture interprets Scripture, not our opinions and preconceived notions of how we think a passage of Scripture ought to read. When we try to fit our thinking and prejudices into the reading of Scripture, we are using a format known as EISEGESIS. The best way to describe this faulty procedure is when someone reads a selection of Scripture and then asks their peers or class, “What does this passage mean TO YOU?” This type of teaching and thinking leads to cults, false doctrine, and stunted Christian development if not corrected.
In studying the Bible, we want to know what God is trying to tell us with each passage and verse. This requires careful reading of the text using good study tools at our disposal, like dictionaries, concordances, commentaries, and the works of scholars and ministers who preach and teach that the Bible is literally true and trustworthy. This method of study is known as EXEGESIS, and it is the only viable way of really understanding the treasures of the Word.
There is nothing complicated about what the LORD would have to present to us in His Word.
Almost all of the Bible is written in a format that is easily understood and historically obvious to anyone willing to read it carefully. When the Lord Jesus taught in parables, He used stories of everyday events and people in ways that made those who wanted to truly learn from Him how to think and understand the precepts of God. He used figurative speech to illustrate literal facts about what it meant to follow Him and obey the commandments of God. In the book of 2 Samuel, the prophet Nathan used a parable to convict King David of his adulterous affair with the wife of his loyal soldier Uriah and the aftermath. Nathan’s story was used by God to show David the literal seriousness of his sins and the consequences that would accompany it.
Jesus made His disciples THINK, and He still does this for anyone willing to seriously follow Him today. He does not and never has commended anyone to just “open their Bible” and expect a message to ascend out of heaven. Sermons and teachings do not fall out of the sky already prepared, ready for us to give to a class or congregation. Proper interpretation of Scripture relies on the leading of the Holy Spirit, who was sent by the Lord Jesus to teach us (John 16:5-15) and bestow upon us those gifts deemed necessary for us to accomplish the work to which we are commissioned (1 Corinthians 12:1-11).
Like the Good Teacher He is, He assigns homework (studying the Word, preparation of messages and lessons, convicting us of the need to keep focused on the things of God and not the flesh, etc.) and encourages us to continually “renew our minds” (Romans 12:1-2), all which rests on our decision to mature in our faith and stay focused on the things of God to do His will.
In closing, I want to leave you with the words of Dr. Ron Rhodes regarding properly understanding Scripture:
“When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense lest you end up with nonsense.”
This applies to the treasures we will uncover as we go through the book of Revelation.
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