Below are seven common approaches to interpreting Bible prophecy. Although man has composed a number of positions and definitions regarding prophecy, nearly everyone observes prophecy from one of these seven angles. It should be noted that though people may employ different approaches at different times, each individual’s understanding is likely to be dominated by just one of the following perspectives.
Literalism involves interpreting a passage in its plainest sense. People who hold to a literal approach to understanding Bible prophecy would agree with this statement: “Simply believe what you read.”
Some scholars claim that the Bible’s inclusion of a number of symbols, parables, and metaphors to express meaning makes literalism impractical. However, in most cases, every symbolic passage in the Bible is followed by a full explanation.
Despite the claims of some scholars, 2 Timothy seems to indicate that God didn’t intend Scripture to be taken subjectively: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
The key to making a literal approach work is not to add individual biases and beliefs to what the Bible says.
Because there are so many schools of thought regarding the same Scriptures, many Bible scholars agree that a strict guideline for interpreting God’s Word is the most prudent option to follow.
This method has the Rapture Ready seal of approval for the best approach to Bible prophecy.
Some folks find that literalism interferes with their personal interpretations of prophecy.
This approach involves using current events to define the meaning of prophetic Scripture. Most current event commentaries are formulated by simply reading the latest news, and then cross-referencing the news with Bible prophecy.
Current event-focused reporting is an effective method of warning people. If we are getting very close to the advent of final end-time events, it is natural to expect these events to begin appearing in the news.
Sometimes a big headline will grab the attention of the prophetic community, even though the event has nothing to do with prophecy. A good example was the death of Princess Diana: It was a big story, but it had zero linkage to Bible prophecy.
Referencing current events is an excellent way to make people aware of predicted end-time events.
Because adverse situations have occurred many times throughout history, it can be risky to jump the gun by saying a certain news item fulfills Bible prophecy. A particular current event may, for a short period, resemble a predicted end-time prophecy. But because situations can easily change, caution should always be exercised.
By studying the meaning of numbers and their supposed influence on Bible prophecy, numerologists hope to discover dates for key end-time events.
When it comes to predicting the rapture, the second coming, and other end-time dates, numerology is the most widely used method of determining these dates.
Because numerology has no set formulas, and the Bible offers a wealth of numbers with which to work, any year can be determined to be suspect.
Here are some numerology workings for the year 1998: Some observed the fact that 666 X 3 = 1998; others note that America will be 222 years old, and 2+2+2 equals the devil’s number 6; and the UN will be 51 next year, 5+1 also equal 6. If you’re still not convinced, according to one person, 4003 BC was the starting point for mankind; count off 6 millennia and you come up with 1998.
Because numerology-minded people are constantly working with numbers, I’m sure most of them have exceptional math skills.
Just about any group of numbers can be made to mathematically predict any predetermined date.
Because the Antichrist will someday control all world governments, some look for him to come to power by means of a shadow government.
Conspiracy-minded people will tell you all aspects of society are controlled by “the powers that be.” Their understanding of prophecy is generally filtered through the notion that secret organizations are guiding and controlling world affairs.
Conspiracy buffs may claim that all aspects of society are controlled by unseen powers. If the mailmen linger too long in front of their homes, they think the postal carriers are spies working for the Illuminati.
Some of the claims by conspiracy seekers are incredibly outlandish: UFOs are abducting people and turning them into mindless robots; every Christian leader in America is part of the conspiracy; concentration camps are being set up for Christians; and all disasters are caused by the government.
When the Antichrist takes over, conspiracy buffs will be ready to flee to the mountains.
You wouldn’t be able to go anywhere because your friends and family already will have had you committed.
Some Christians base their entire understanding of Bible prophecy on messages received supernaturally from God.
A prophetic interpretation can be made very tempting if it’s preceded by, “Thus saith the Lord…”.
A true test to determine whether one who claims to be a prophet of God really is a prophet of God is found in the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy: “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22).
Historically, some Christians have been lacking discernment over the issue of false predictions. Many so-called prophets of God have repeatedly set dates that have failed to come to pass.
If God said it would happen, then you can be absolutely sure it will take place.
The believer should maintain a healthy skepticism about those who claim divine revelation, and immediately reject those who contradict sound Bible doctrine.
The intellectual approach involves finding deep and often-hidden meanings of prophecy. This approach may also rely heavily on historical writings, which may help counteract modern doctrinal heresies.
Unfortunately, errors can creep in as prideful men strive beyond the “limited” thinking of our early church fathers. The intellectual approach appeals primarily to those who are well educated or very familiar with prophecy.
If an intellectual makes an obscure prophetic doctrine claim that is false, most people will never understand the error.
Grievous errors in the composition of one’s hermeneutics can lead to more arduous discernment of malefactions among adherents of eschatology. Also, it makes it more difficult to understand prophecy. Another problem with this approach: It makes it difficult for the common Joe to understand prophecy.
The allegorical approach takes the view that frequently expresses or explains one thing while actually referring to another. Those who hold to this approach look for hidden or symbolic meanings in prophetic Scripture. They often say, “It says this, but what it really means is this.”
Allegorical interpretations of passages can often be found to conflict with other parts of the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses allegorically believe the Lord Jesus returned secretly in 1914, yet the Apostle John wrote, “every eye shall see him” (Rev. 1:7).
Many people who view Bible prophecy as a threat use an allegorical interpretation of prophecy to alter it to their liking. Subjects like the Antichrist, the tribulation or the mark of the beast are either eliminated or made harmless by allegorical definitions.
Allegorical scholars get to let their imaginations run wild.
With no set rules or standards for the interpretation of prophecy, it may be difficult to find two allegorical scholars who agree with each other.