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?”
How Scripture answers "Can we interpret Bible prophecy?"
We can only interpret prophecy to the extent that God, through another inspired writer2,4,6,9, or “what is written”8, has revealed what it means1,9. For example, we have cases where we would never even think to make the application on our own, and yet the inspired writer does5. In fact, interpreting Bible prophecy and how we handle it in general is the ultimate example of how Scripture interprets Scripture, or literally, God interprets God1.
There are absolutely other cases where prophecy seems to be saying something we could readily understand and apply. First, maybe it’s just the words being used7 (many more examples). Or, maybe it’s the close proximity (e.g. context) of other verses that have been definitively interpreted by an inspired writer (ex: Isaiah 53, where not all verses are interpreted to describe Jesus). How does the sincere Bible student handle these?
Should we be coming to definitive conclusions about doctrine based on these situations? Is that not a form of adding to3,8 His word? Are we not making ourself to be God (or, “puffed up” as Paul points out8? “Yes!” is God’s answer. This principle is part of the broader principle that there are some questions we cannot answer because God has not revealed it to us in His word.
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