Principles of Interpretation
In our previous study, we saw that any intelligent approach to the study of the Scriptures must acknowledge certain fundamentals. Since the Scriptures are “God-breathed” then we cannot discern them by the unaided natural mind. God has given to the believer the Holy Spirit to lead him into all truth. Since then we are all thus dependent on the Holy Spirit, He must not be grieved by unconfessed sin nor unworthy attitudes in the study of the Scriptures. Since the Holy Spirit indwells every believer, there is no class monopoly on the discovery of Divine truths. While it is recognized that some have been especially gifted to be teachers, all may learn directly from the Holy Spirit. Since the knowledge of God comes by revelation, academic training and high intellectual capacity are not essentials for Bible study. However, the lack of these are not to be made an excuse for sloth nor indolence in study. All capacities and learning are to be consecrated to the Lord, and to be maintained at the peak of efficiency for God. Certain factors are also to be considered. As in God’s great work in creation, so too, in the word of Revelation, there are set laws which must be accepted. However, we recognize that there is the human element to consider, that of interpretation. This may be coloured by training, environment or preferences of a purely personal nature. Thus we see the vital importance of having set principles of interpretation that will be applied consistently in all study of the Bible.
As we approach the Scriptures certain facts are to be recognized. First, God has a program for His creation. Nebuchadnezzar made that discovery: “He doeth according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” (Daniel 4:35). Since God loves His creatures and has included them in His plans, He is pleased to reveal that program to them. On one occasion He said to the House of Jacob, “I have declared the former things from the beginning;… (Isaiah 48:3a).
God has voluntarily chosen to limit the vehicle of that revelation to terms of reference that are intelligible to His creatures. In Numbers 12:6 we read, “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him…” God has also given today in this age the capacity to receive Divine revelation from the Word. This capacity is first, eternal life. This is the means whereby we may know God. Then it is the “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:16). This revelation, however, is not simply to satisfy our curiosity, nor to make us “prophetic experts,” but to adjust behaviour, inspire loving and acceptable service, and to encourage hope.
Since our previous studies in this series considered the prophets and prophecy, we shall look at the interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures. It will be profitable to consider three important principles.
1. The Principle of Prophetic Perspective.
2. The Principle of Prophetic Chronology.
3. The Principle of Prophetic Terminology.
A great deal of confusion exists today, which need not, if only the first principle were observed. Prophetic perspective must be taken into account because, in the realm of eternal things, time and space are not governed as on the earth. Therefore, it is not surprising to find prophetic events presented on the same visual and temporal plane, yet historically separated, sometimes by thousands of years. This can be illustrated by the stars. While to the earthbound viewer, there are stars that appear near to one another, yet they are separated by deep space, millions of light years in scope.
A few examples of this principle can easily be demonstrated. Isaiah 61:1-3 presents a prophetic revelation seemingly all on the same plane of time, yet, in the fulfilment of it, we know that well over 1900 years have already come between the first part, fulfilled in Luke 4:18 on, and the latter part, “the day of vengeance…,” which is not yet. In the King James Version all those centuries are represented by a single comma. The prophetic dream of the image in chapter 2 of Daniel was presented as one, yet many centuries were represented by the kingdoms spoken of there. The prophetic truths in Micah 5 appear as one consecutive program, yet they actually sweep from the incarnation to the kingdom.
Some modern song writers seem particularly prone to this confusion. Such thrilling melodies as “The King is Coming” is a hodge-podge of prophetic confusion which fails to recognize the difference between the coming of the Lord for the Church and the coming of the King with the Church and the armies of Heaven.
The Principle of Prophetic Chronology must be applied if we are to apprehend just what God is saying. In the prophetic Scriptures we read of “hours,” “days,” “times,” “ages,” “now” either in the simple form or qualified, such as “the ages… to come.” The Lord Jesus spoke of “His hour,” clearly that time when the work of redemption would be carried out, not just a period of sixty minutes. It speaks of a rather brief yet important period of great significance either for good or evil. “This is your hour and the power of darkness,” the Lord said to the leaders of the people in Gethsemane.
The Day of Christ is used with reference to Christ and His Church in the heavens, while the Day of the Lord is always used with regards to judgment (see Zephaniah 1:14-18). The Day of God is the eternal day when the present universe has been dissolved and a new system inaugurated wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:12). The “last day” is not a day of twenty-four hours absolutely at the end of everything. It is the great closing period in which God will make manifest the result of Satan’s wiles, man’s works and His own ways. “Man’s day” is the long period in which man has sought to rule his own affairs according to his own thoughts, his own will, and his own ends. The “Day of Salvation,” is that period from the advent of the Saviour till the rapture of the Church. While many will be saved out of the time of tribulation, salvation will not be the character of those days.
“Times,” are also spoken of variously. There is reference to “these last times” in 1 Peter 1:20. That is the period of uncertain duration that followed all the “times” previous to the coming to earth of the Lord Jesus. The “latter times” in 1 Timothy 4:1 is a period within the last time. It is in contrast to “earlier” times, as the latter rains were in contrast to the earlier rains, and came just before the harvest. “The last time” in a more specific way is that time when the antichrist will be personified in an individual, the context bearing out whether the expression is used generally, or specifically.
To Be Continued