How we interpret Bible prophecy presents a unique challenge, at least to the extent that the question should be asked…Is Bible prophecy even something we can interpret?

interpret (verb): 1-to explain or tell the meaning of : present in understandable terms. 2-to conceive in the light of individual belief, judgment, or circumstance. Merriam-Webster

We ask the question and identify the challenge because of the class of the prophetic writings themselves. They are by their nature, wildly figurative and symbolic. Whether it’s Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37) or John’s vision of the beast emerging from the sea (Revelation 13), we are often left asking ourselves, “What can this mean?”

Remembering the similarities with the parables that Jesus taught and His reason for doing so (Matthew 13:10-11), can we interpret Bible prophecy?

how Scripture answers "Can we interpret Bible prophecy?"

We can interpret prophecy, but only to the extent God has told us through Scripture what it means1. Interpreting Bible prophecy and how we handle it in general is the ultimate example of how Scripture interprets Scripture (lit. God interprets God1).

Prophecy belongs to God2,4. We cannot presume to know their meanings except where inspired writers guide us (for example, Hosea->Matthew5). If we are coming to definitive conclusions about prophecies that God has remained silent about, is that not a form of adding to3?

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks
1
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
What the prophet’s spoke was not of their own but from God – His words and at His instigation. It was likewise not their’s to interpret but God’s alone. He gave them the interpretation just as He gave them the words.

Peter is warning all Christians about false teachers and goes on to compare them to false prophets.  His overarching message is encouragement to hold fast to his and the apostles’ teaching as they “were eyewitnesses” (vs 16) of Jesus Christ.  In addition to their eyewitness testimony, he is suggesting they pay attention to the prophecies that serve as confirmation of their faith.

How does it inform?

Peter is explicitly noting that no Scriptural prophecy is interpreted by man since no [true] prophecy is given by man. Prophecy is from God [His words], and therefore God’s alone to interpret. Interestingly, Peter tells us this while citing two familiar prophetic images – their meanings we need not speculate about since we have inspired [God] interpretation – “a lamp shining” (Luke 1:76-79) and “the morning star” (Revelation 22:16).

Does it apply? Yes

2
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

The prophets prophesied about the salvation through Christ (or, “grace that was to be yours”) and wondered themselves about the timing and person that would be Jesus as they predicted His sufferings and glories.  Yet, they were told they were serving someone else with the things (prophesies) that have now been fulfilled (“announced”) in the revelation of the gospel by the Holy Spirit.

Peter’s letter(s) of encouragement to the saints that were facing great persecution and longing for their reward in Christ Jesus.

How does it inform?

The prophets that uttered God’s prophecy didn’t know for themselves the interpretation. They were left to wonder (without God revealing it to them).

Does it apply? Yes

3
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
I warn everyone hearing this not to add to or take away anything from it.  If you do, God will add to him the plagues and take away his share of eternal salvation described herein.
The closing verses of John’s apocalyptic vision.  These are the words from Jesus continued from verse 16 providing several warnings and promises.

How does it inform?

We are warned not to add to or take away from God’s word. Whether this is specific to just the book of Revelation or the collection of books that are the Bible, the truth remains.

Does it apply? Yes

4

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery. Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

King Nebuchadnezzar honored Daniel and acknowledged his God as the God of all gods and ruler of kings.  He gave him gifts and made him ruler over the province and put in charge over all the wise men.  Daniel was also to appoint his three friends into positions over the province, while Daniel remained in king Nebuchadnezzar’s court.

With God’s help, Daniel is able to interpret a dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s that nobody else was able to interpret. It was of an image made of different alloys that each represented kingdoms, starting with Nebuchadnezzar’s and ending with a kingdom that God will establish, lasting forever (vs 44).

How does it inform?

God is the “revealer of mysteries.” Daniel, in all his righteousness, wasn’t able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream on his own.

Does it apply? Yes

5

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

When Israel was young, I [God] loved him, and out of Egypt I called [saved] him.

This chapter appears to begin a distinct prophecy from God (through Hosea).  The personification of the nation of Israel – God’s chosen people – is not at all unique in the Old Testament.  After referring to the love for His people and His saving them from bondage in Egypt, there is a rebuke of their behavior in return, “The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols” (vs 2).  The prophecy continues recounting their history and specifically calling out God’s “kindness” (vs 4) toward them and their rebellion against Him (“the people are bent on turning away from me” vs 7).

Matthew also interprets this verse only to apply to Jesus and the fact that they had to flee to Egypt after his birth (

Matthew 2:13-15
).

How does it inform?

There is nothing about this verse that that would allow for an interpretation that Matthew made regarding Jesus. Hosea wrote this some 700+ years before Christ. Furthermore, the very next verse speaks of rebellion and sacrificing to idols (certainly not about Jesus). We can only know this is speaking about Jesus because of an inspired writer’s interpretation.

!! study note: context is extra important here !!

Does it apply? Yes

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If you know of some other verses or you have something to add to the verses already listed for this question please leave a comment below! We welcome the public discussion and will incorporate your input into the Framework above. We have nothing to hide and invite your help in considering all that God’s word has to say.

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