January 16, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy II: Context, Typology and Symbols

When attempting to interpret prophetic Scripture it is crucial to have a literal interpretation of the text. Where possible one should learn the Greek or Hebrew as some things are lost in translation. The best version for English readers in my experience is the NASB and the ESV. Although the paraphrased Bibles like the NLT and "Message" version are easy to read, they are next to worthless for exegesis and interpretation.

Having said this it is crucial to keep in mind that the literary context of a passage means more than the words or paragraph immediately surrounding. A reader must have also have the whole book in view to recognize the entire tapestry of the writing. Daniel and Revelations are the supreme examples of this or prophecy is often taken out of context as it is in many churches. Daniel deals with some rather broad contexts in terms of history when dealing with dreams and visions. Within Daniel we see the mention of at least three perhaps four kings. Because of the broad sweeping contexts of Daniel, a person coming to the text with a myopic or pigeonholed view are already starting off on the wrong foot and heading for disaster.

In Daniel & Revelation we have the task of distinguishing between literal and figurative language usage of words phrases are understood to me literal when they carry normal societal meanings. Figurative language takes a common, ordinary meaning and moves it to another realm of understanding. Often times the difference in one interpretation over another is the degree to which someone applies literalness.

Because the Bible utilizes language we are limited to what can be conveyed in words. As such words, grammar, syntax are subject to certain rules and constraints that must be learned so people can understand things properly. We will see various figures of speech, similes, metaphors, and hyperbole. Typology is a tool to draw reader attention to one point of similarity between a person, event, or thing in the OT and a person, event or thing in the NT. It is a language of comparison with a historical context both in the past and in the end times. We also see a Symbol is a visual metaphor. The use of Scripture to determine the symbol is referred to as decoding.

As for prophecy itself I must restate that prophecy's explicit purpose is not "predict the future" or "predict the End Times" which is exactly the manner in which pastors and preachers use it. I absolutely needs to be approached understanding it is to predict blessing or judgment. Primarily it is also to call people to a holy life. Prophetic preaching often is laden in figurative language but nowhere in the Bible is prophecy used to specifically satisfy people’s natural curiosity about the future. Never. So why would Revelation be any different? That methodology would break the pattern of Scripture. Prophecy is used for God's purposes, not the other way around. If by chance it reveals other things besides what I've stated about the future it is fringe benefit but not the primary purpose.

Read the last few sentences again...and get those ideas out of your head. I imagine some of these last few sentences should get people agitated. I've tried being nice about some of these things related to prophecy and deliver this stuff in "love" but Dispensationalism that has been factionalized in the last few decades is thoroughly entrenched in the American Evangelical psyche by those trying to sensationalize Daniel and Revelation. The problem is that some of the more recent forms of this are not even biblical. Because of this its hard to get through to those that take a dogmatic tract with no room for discussion. I will say that I am what most would consider a "leaky dispensationalist" somewhere between Walvoord and Ryrie. The problem or inability to decipher Biblical prophecy is that many need to stop watching the sensationalized bad theology on television and a huge portion of evangelical "literature" predicting the end times/eschaton putting it into novelized form for money in 20-part series books with bad theology. If that is why you're watching the show or reading the books, they and you are missing the point of prophecy completely. You will be better served reading your Bible and living a sanctified life.

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