Thursday, July 15, 2021

A Study of Prophecy - Bible Interpretation


Where do organizations such as "Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden" come from? How do we know we are properly interpreting the Word? We are exhorted to be careful of false teachers, but how do we determine who the false teachers are?

We are warned about false teachers and prophets.

2Pe 2:1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves.

Mat 7:15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

1Jn 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Rev 2:2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.

We are also exhorted to be careful of our own teaching and doctrine. Again, how do we know that our doctrine is sound and that we are handling the Word of God soundly?

1Ti 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

2Ti 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

2Ti 4:2-4 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. (3) For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (4) They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Tit 2:1 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.

As a teacher, I can appreciate the exhortations and warnings.

Jas 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

Before we can begin a study of Prophecy, we need sound ground rules for biblical interpretation.

Definition of the Literal, Grammatical, Historical Methodolgy

DISPENSATIONAL HERMENEUTICS: The Grammatico -Historical Method by Andy Woods


Dispensationalism is more related to how one interprets the Bible, or a "hermeneutic". A Dispensationalist interprets the Bible using a "consistent literal, grammatical, and historical" method of interpretation.

Dispensationalism is not a theological system of understanding that is imposed on to the text, so as to modify the plain reading of the text, rather, it is an understanding that arises out of the method of interpretation and the plain reading of the text.

A "literal interpretation" is defined as a type of interpretation that is based on the actual words in their ordinary meaning, while not reading back into the text more than it actually says. Words in the Bible are assigned the same meaning they would have in normal usage in normal conversation.

David L. Cooper's “Golden Rule of Interpretation” incorporates what is meant by a "literal" interpretation:

"When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise."

With a literal hermenuetic we seek to understand what the writer was plainly speaking, and we understand that that plain speech is how the writer communicated to the original hearers and how the writers original hearers understood the text. It cannot mean something different to us today than what it meant to the original hearers then.

Consider the following texts as well, how are they to be understood?

Rom 7:1-2

Rom 7:1-2 Do you not know, brothers and sisters--for I am speaking to those who know the law--that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? (2) For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him.

The passage is speaking about the believers relationship to the Law of Moses, nothing more, nothing less. Some have used this passage to in relation to the nation of Israel and their divorce and remarriage to Yahweh, rather than the individual's relation to the Law of Moses. Rather than understanding the plain sense of the text, that in Christ we have died to the Law, they claim that the text teaches that because God divorced Israel, by law He could not be restored to Israel in marriage, unless He died and nullified the "Law of Marriage". So Jesus had to come and die in order to nullify the law prohibiting marriage, so that He could once again be married to Israel as a different man (Jesus vs. Yahweh).

This sort of interpretation is entirely allegorical and as such is read into the text rather than an understanding of what the text is clearly talking about.

Gal 4:21-31

Gal 4:24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.

In this example, the plain reading of Gal 4:21-31 is as a metaphor, as vs. 24 clearly states. As such, the "literal" meaning is metaphorical and should be interpreted as such.

Rev 4:1-4

Rev 4:1-4 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." (2) At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (3) And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. (4) Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

The Revelation is frequently the subject of allegorical interpretations. Much reading between the lines is done in an attempt to get at a deeper meaning. The throne room scene, however, should be taken literally, and figures of speech should be taken accordingly. I.E. "a voice speaking like a trumpet", "the appearance of Jasper" are clearly examples or figures of speech. "24 thrones", "24 elders" should be taken literally, as there is no reason to understand them to be anything other than what is plainly spoken..

Isa 55:12

Isa 55:12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Trees clapping is a figure of speech.

2Sa 1:23

2Sa 1:23 Saul and Jonathan-- in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

"swifter than eagles", "stronger than lions" are hyperbole.

Some would accuse those that use a literal interpretation of not allowing for symbols, types figures of speech, etc., but that is not the case. These types of speech are used in normal every day communications. At issue here is how the accuser is using the term "literal". The term allows for the "literal" use of those types of speech.

Charles Ryrie specifically notes that literalism “…does not preclude or exclude correct understanding of types, illustrations, apocalypses, and other genres within the basic framework of literal interpretation.” Ryrie further explains that literal interpretation “…might also be called plain interpretation so that no one receives the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech.”"

Definition of Dispensationalism explains in "What is dispensationalism and is it biblical?": (

Got Questions says: "Dispensationalists understand the Bible to be organized into seven dispensations: Innocence (Gen 1:1Gen 3:7), Conscience (Gen 3:8Gen 8:22), Human Government (Gen 9:1Gen 11:32), Promise (Gen 12:1Exo 19:25), Law (Exo 20:1Act 2:4), Grace (Act 2:4Rev 20:3), and the Millennial Kingdom (Rev 20:4-6). Again, these dispensations are not paths to salvation, but manners in which God relates to man. Each dispensation includes a recognizable pattern of how God worked with people living in the dispensation. That pattern is 1) a responsibility, 2) a failure, 3) a judgment, and 4) grace to move on."

This plain reading, or literal interpretation of scripture by Dispensationalist results in biblical understanding that is pre-millennial and usually is a pre-tribulational understanding of the rapture. It also results in an understanding that the church and Israel are two distinct people groups.

There are 3 sine qua non (indispensable conditions) of Dispensationalism:

  1. A consistently literal interpretation of Scripture, especially Bible prophecy.

  2. A view of the uniqueness of Israel as separate from the Church in God’s program.

  3. Our purpose is doxological, meaning that our purpose is to bring honor and praise to God.

Philosophy of the Literal, Grammatical, Historical Methodolgy

Using a consistent literal, grammatical, and historical method of Bible interpretation will avoid pitfalls and bad interpretations.

As Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum points out in "Israelology - The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, J. Dwight Pentecost cites four dangers when a literal approach is not used, and an interpretive method such as the Allegorical Method is used in it's place:

  1. The authority of the text transfers from the text to the interpreter. The interpreter becomes the final word on what the text is saying. Instead of relying on the text as it is plainly written, we read between the lines and add interpretation that ultimately comes from our own will and imagination.

    We end up understanding things that say one thing but allegedly mean another, and those whom we are teaching are tied to the instructor instead of the text. The text becomes subjective instead of objective.

    Dr. John F. Walvoord observes: "It’s not too difficult to account for the widespread approval of the spiritualizing method adopted by many conservative theologians as well as liberal and Roman Catholic expositors. Fundamentally its charm lies in its flexibility. The interpreter can change the literal and grammatical sense of Scripture to make it coincide with his own system of interpretation."

  1. Scripture itself becomes subject to what the interpreter thinks.

  2. The student is left with no way to test the conclusions of the interpreter. The objective standards of the plain text is done away with through the interpreters subjective interpretation. In this scenario, each interpreters interpretation becomes just as valid as the others, and the means to determine correct interpretation is no longer a possibility.

  3. Once the door is opened to allow the interpreter to read between the lines and pull out subjective interpretations by spiritualizing the text, there is no restrictions on the interpreter to prevent run away speculation and imaginings. The literal interpretive method relies upon the text itself to keep the interpreter reigned in.

Allegorical Method of Interpretation

6. The Contextual Method Of Biblical Interpretation


"... the abuses of the non-historical, non-grammatical method led to the formulation of another school of interpretation. The Historical-Grammatical textual-focused school of Antioch of Syria (third century) accused the allegorist of:

1. importing meaning into the text

2. forcing a hidden meaning into every text

3. putting forth fanciful and far-fetched interpretation

4. not allowing words and sentences to bear their obvious, normal meaning (Sire 1980, 107)

5. allowing human subjectivity to dominate the plain message of the original author"

Another way to describe the "Allegorical" method of interpretation is "spiritualizing" the text. It is also characterized by interpreting plainly written passages as being symbolic of some deeper meaning.

What is wrong with the allegorical interpretation method?


"Allegorical interpretation looks for a deeper, spiritual meaning within the text. While not necessarily denying that the text has a literal meaning or that the historical incidents reported are true, allegorical interpreters will look for a deeper symbolic meaning."

A Brief History

Dr. Andy Woods points out:

The early reformers recognized that the church up till that time (Origen, Augustine) had been using an allegorical method to present the Bible to the people. John Calvin (1509-1564) and Martin Luther (1483-1546) were both alive around the time Gutenburg produced the first printing of the Bible in 1454. Until that time, the Bible was not widely distributed, and people would have relied upon church leaders to instruct them.

Both John Calvin and Martin Luther rejected the use of church teaching, and instead advocated that people everywhere return to scripture alone. (Sola scriptura). The wider printing of the Bible enabled people to read the Bible itself.

"Both reformers [John Calvin and Martin Luther] rejected the use of church tradition as a guide for spiritual truth and instead advocated returning to scripture alone or “sola scriptura” as the source of Christian belief and practice. To put this into legal terms, Luther and Calvin rejected the case law approach as a guide to Scripture. The case law method places more emphasis on studying what legal authorities have said about a given legal source than on studying the legal source itself."

Both John Calvin and Martin Luther returned to a more literal understanding of the Bible, but they were not consistent. They only went part way, and still allegorized selected parts. In particular, they were primarily interested in issues regarding salvation, and less on Ecclesiology and Eschatology, and as a result, they continued to use an allegorical method of interpretation in these areas.

It wasn't until the early Dispensationalist arrived in the 1800's that a "consistent" literal method was put in place to interpret all of the Bible, including eschatology. Accordingly, the early dispensationalist completed the move to a literal interpretation of all of the Bible. This is what makes Dispensationalism stand out among other theological systems, it's consistent application of a literal hermeneutic to the totality of the Bible.

Interpretation as Related to Law

Arguably, the American system of government, consisting of 3 branches of government providing checks and balances between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches are based on a biblical pattern.

Isa 33:22 For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us.

The Lord is our judge - the judiciary

The Lord is our lawgiver - the legislature

The Lord is our king - the executive branch

What Happened When We Were Not Looking


In law, a literal interpretation of an existing law is called "textualism". Textualism is the equivalent of "literal, grammatical, historical" biblical interpretation. A judge that interprets the existing constitution or law "textually" is called an "originalist".

The battle for the judiciary today is over the appointment of judges who are either textual originalist, or liberal revisionist.

Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett are textual originalist. The follow a literal, grammatical historical method of interpretation of law.

With the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the issue was discrimination of women on the basis of biological sex. The passage of the act provided for equal rights for women.

The judiciary, in response to a case brought before them referred to as "Bostock v. Clayton County", ruled that in the 1964 Civil Rights Act applied to transgenderism and gender identity, meaning that the 1964 law was to be applicable not only to a biological woman, but also a man identifying as a woman.

What happened here? What interpretive method was used to draw their conclusion of this law?

Justice Gorsuch’s Legal Philosophy Has a Precedent Problem

How should a textualist deal with bad case law?


"Justice Neil Gorsuch is a proud textualist. According to this approach, what Congress intended, or expected, when it passed a law doesn’t matter. What matters are the words printed on paper. In practice, Justice Gorsuch will strictly follow the text of statutes, no matter what result it yields. Last month, he decided that the 1964 Civil Rights Act has always prohibited LGBTQ discrimination. Everyone had simply missed it for half a century. And at the close of the Court’s term, he determined that an 1833 treaty between the federal government and American Indian tribes was never formally rescinded. Who knew that eastern Oklahoma has been Indian Country all along?

In both cases, Justice Gorsuch insisted he was sticking to the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text. Alas, he wasn’t. His interpretation was shaded by the work of justices who had not been so careful about text. And in both cases, Justice Gorsuch failed to acknowledge that the Court’s precedents were inconsistent with textualism. In doing so, he inadvertently undermined textualism’s justification. One can’t profess to follow the original meaning of a text while in fact following precedents that ignored that meaning. Going forward, he should criticize prior decisions that failed to take text seriously, and either reluctantly follow them, or formally abandon them."


  1. Instead of using the plain text of the law, they relied on prior cases.

  2. They inserted meaning into the law that did not exist in the mind of the original writers.

  3. Their conclusion in effect created new law that did not previously exist, and in so doing, usurped the role of the legislature.

  4. This is called an "activist judiciary". An "activist judiciary" is one that creates law. It could be on the basis of personal conviction, or on the basis of popular demand. In either case, it is usurpation of the role of the legislative branch, and is called "legislating from the bench".

  5. What happens to the American Legislative branch if the judiciary takes over the role of creating law through the reinterpretation of what the legislatures intent was?

How does this relate to bible interpretation?

  1. When the interpreter decides what the text says, there is no limit to how far off base they can go. The original intent of the writers is lost.

  2. Case based interpretation removes the interpreter from the text, and make them subservient to the opinions of others. It is presuppositional. I.E. personal conviction or popular demand claims the text says x, so the text is molded to fit.

  3. False teachings come out of the minds of men.


How do you decide what to take literally and what not to take literally?

As we have learned, Dispensationalism is the result of a "consistent literal, grammatical, and historical" method of interpretation. Theological differences arise as divergence is allowed from a consistent literal method into allegorical or spiritualized method to one degree or another.

Q137 : Covenant, Reformed, and Dispensational Theology


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