Interpretation of Prophecy
Many conservative Bible scholars will interpret the Scriptures literally until they come to a prophetic passage. Then they begin to interpret more allegorically, giving undue consideration to names, numbers, and the hidden meaning of symbols. These are important considerations as God will sometimes use these to teach us important truth, but we should not allow this emphasis to destroy the use of a consistent, literal interpretation of Bible prophecy.
The literal method is an attempt to give the same meaning to a word as the author who wrote the passage. This means we do not try to “think up” an interpretation for the Book of Daniel, but to seek the author’s meaning of words and passages. By “literal interpretation” we mean the normal meaning of words or terms. Obviously, when Jesus is called a Lamb in the Bible, the writer does not mean Jesus had four legs and was covered in wool. Lamb in this case is a figure of speech and must be interpreted with the meaning that John the Baptist had in mind when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). John the Baptist meant that Jesus was the fulfillment of the typical paschal lamb in the Passover supper. This literal approach is the most secure method of determining what God intended to say. It simply asks, “In the light of the historical context of this passage and the basic rules of grammar as we understand them, what was the writer saying?” But since all Scripture has dual authorship (God and man) we must seek the mind of both authors in interpreting Scripture.
Symbols are an important part of the prophetic Scriptures but the Christian does not have to rely upon his imagination to interpret them. The Bible often tells us the meaning of a symbol within the context of the same passage. This is illustrated in the first chapter of Revelation. The symbols of stars and candlesticks are used but they are identified as the messengers of the church (Rev. 1:26). Sometimes a parallel passage may have the divine interpretation of a symbol we would otherwise not understand.
The Old Testament prophets spoke to a contemporary problem but the message had also a long-range prediction. When Isaiah predicted that Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:21, 23), he spoke to an immediate setting (Isa. 7:1-14). The double fulfillment is also seen when Joel predicted, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28). This applies to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit both on the day of Pentecost and in the end times.