It Milton Terry who once wrote:
“We gain nothing for the honor of the Scriptures by attempting to force upon them a meaning they were never intended to convey’.
Recently I went to a local Bible study held at another church and the discussion was geared around “prophetic texts” of the Old and New Testament. As is commonly done, the pastor led the discussion of interpretation with a two-fold choice- literal or spiritual. He made sure to explain that he does not believe in what we may call “wooden literalism”. For example, Scripture teaches that the Lord is our rock (Psalm 18:2), yet we would not say that He is literally a rock- instead we understand the metaphor being used.
I have entertained many conversations about Biblical prophecies and the discussion of interpretation comes up many times. How many times have you heard, “Well, that is just your interpretation” and granted sometimes it very well could be. I know and am known myself for bringing up 2 Peter 1:20 which states:
“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation..”.
So from the outset we must recognize that we have no place to read Scripture and create our own version of what it says. Instead we must seek to understand what the original writer meant to say and how the original readers would have understood the writing. This is what we call “Audience Relevance”. Also, we must understand who the original audience was. This may come as a shock, hopefully not, but it may. The Bible was NOT written to YOU. Their was a direct audience for each of the writings. Let’s establish that.
The Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) are God’s revealed law and covenant with Israel.
Joshua, Judges, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles are all dealing with the history of Israel.
The prophets were proclaiming their words to Israel.
The “gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are the details of Christ’s ministry on earth to the none other than “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).
The book of Acts is dealing with the proclamation of Christ to all the known world from Jerusalem to Rome- again the salvation of Israel.
The rest of the New Testament is writings from the Apostle Peter, the Apostle Paul, Jude the brother of Jesus, and John- all of whom proclaimed the same gospel (1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; 2 Corinthians 11:4; Ephesians 3:6), the ONE “hope of Israel”(Ephesians 4:4; Acts 28:20), and as the Apostle Paul proclaimed “saying nothing other than what which was written in the Law and the Prophets” (Acts 24:14; Acts 26:22).
To ignore the exclusivity to Israel in these writings to to completely miss the point of the gospel message and the proper understand of context.
Now that we have established “audience relevance” we can move on to the writings themselves. How do we properly understand the Biblical writings as the ancient Jews did? How do we LITERALLY understand these writings?
Author David Chilton made the remark that “The Bible is literature; it is divinely-inspired and inerrant literature, but it is literature all the same. This means we must read it as literature…We cannot understand what the Bible really (literally) means unless we appreciate its use of literary styles”.
Therefore as authors Tim Martin and Jeff Vaughn noted in their book, Beyond Creation Science:
“Speaking literally, the most “literal” interpretation is the one that is most in keeping with the “literature” we find in early Genesis…a true literal interpretation depends on the nature of the literature in question”.
In the Western Church especially we see so much confusion in this area. Intelligent men of God such as professor John Walton, Tim Martin, and Jeff Vaughn have begun the necessary reforms in the understanding of Ancient Near Eastern texts such as Genesis. Visit
http://www.wheaton.edu/Academics/Faculty/W/John-Walton and http://www.beyondcreationscience.com Also, men such as Dr. Don Preston, Larry Siegle, Joe Daniels, Jerry Bowers Jr., and many others have pushed for the necessary reforms of Full Preterism which points out that much of Biblical prophecy is not being understood in its proper phraseology nor historical context. Visit www.ChristHASCome.org & www.thefulfilledconnection.com
It’s only fair that I provide an example.
The Jews used a very symbolic, figurative language when describing events such as battle victories and deliverance from enemies.In Isaiah 13, we read that “every man’s heart will melt, pain and anguish will take hold of them, the stars of heaven and the constellations wil not flash, the Lord will come with cruel and burning anger, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not shed light” described as a “day of the Lord” fulfilled when Babylon was destroyed in 539 B.C. The Lord came into Egypt on a cloud, is language used in Isaiah 19 to depict the Lord’s judgment upon that nation that occured in 480 B.C. Isaiah chapter 34 gives us a chilling blood soaked coming of the Lord in wrath against the land of Edom which occured historically before 400 B.C.
When the prophets spoke about “the coming of the Lord” it depicted national judgment upon nations, so clearly this wasn’t a “new phrase” when used by Jesus to depict judgment upon Jerusalem- indeed the Apostles would have recognized the term. You will not find the term “Second Coming” in the Scriptures, except alluded to in places such as John 14 and Hebrews 9:28.
Yet, many today believe that this supposed “Second Coming of Christ” is going to happen in the future- “soon”- but “no one knows the day or hour”. Not only have modern Christians completely misunderstood the ‘literal’ meaning of the term “coming of the Lord” but “By having a preconceived concept of Christ’s second coming as the Jews did with His first coming, many have “overlooked” obvious texts, and found alternate meanings and interpretations”.
I conclude that much of what is being taught today about “the creation”, “the coming of the Lord”, “the time of the end”, “the resurrection of the dead ones” and many other Biblical topics (including the most important aspect- THE GOSPEL) is born out of theological and literary ignorance. We must seek to understand the langauge of the literature we are reaching- is it metaphor? Is it “prophetic”? Is it hyperbole? How did the ancients or first century Jews (and earlier) use certain phrases such as “heaven and earth”?
I end with this rebuke by Max King:
“Any method of interpretation is dangerous if it perverts the true meaning of scripture, and of course the ultimate test as to whether the true meaning of scripture has been ascertained, will be in the field of harmony and consistency. Any principle of interpretation that fails to advance harmony of thought and purpose in every related field of study must be considered as false. God’s eternal purpose is so constituted and unfolded in the scriptures, that the only right method of interpretation can be advanced entirely free of contradiction, inconsistency, or disharmony. The right method will not only meet the demands of the immediate scripture or context, but also of every related scripture or context”
Another link you can visit to learn more about proper Biblical interpretation is
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Michael Miano