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
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
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
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
Referencing current events is an
excellent way to make people aware of predicted end-time
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
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
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
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 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.