Introduction to the study of Revelation: 1.1 HERMENEUTICAL PRINCIPLES OF REVELATION









‘which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual’. (1Cor 2:13)

(Interpreting spiritual truths with spiritual language – Amplified New Testament, i.e. interpreting scripture with scripture.)

Anyone who sets out to expound scripture must needs be governed, guided and controlled by certain basic principles of interpretation. This is especially so when it comes to interpreting and expounding those portions of scripture that have to do with historical and prophetical things. If these principles are not used and followed properly, then the scriptures (and here we speak more particularly of the book of Revelation) can be made to say anything that the expositor wants it to say.

Revelation has approximately 348 or more quotations, references or allusions in its chapters from the Old Testament. The New Testament also has at least 48 instances, which are quoted or alluded to in Revelation. This must dictate our approach to the book, indeed we can speak of ‘fresh Revelation context’ and ‘woven Revelation context’. ‘Fresh context’ is where completely new material is introduced and ‘woven context’ weaves together numerous things from previous books of the Bible, whether Old or New Testament. One of the oldest and most highly regarded adages of hermeneutics is: ‘Scripture interprets Scripture’. This communicates to us that the Bible, to a large degree, is self-explanatory. This underscores the value of the context principle as the first principle of hermeneutics.

A further amplification of the context principle would be to say that a part could never be understood without the whole. This balances the burden of exegesis which contends that the whole cannot be understood without knowing the meaning of its parts. This paradox has been referred to by interpreters as the ‘hermeneutic circle’ which rotates from part to whole, and from whole to part.

The ‘context principle’ is the ‘principle of all principles’ for interpreting the word of God. The interpretation of a word, a verse, a passage, a chapter, a book, a testament – all must be done within the context circles. Any interpretation that contradicts any other part of scripture is not sound hermeneutics.

The context principle can be subdivided into a group of principles, which are all interrelated.

(1) The first mention principle

(2) The comparative mention principle

(3) The progressive mention principle

(4) The complete mention principle

These four together constitute the ‘context principle’ the most important of all hermeneutic principles. The next group of principles here are referred to as the Theological Group. They are as follows:

(1) The election principle

(2) The covenant principle

(3) The ethnic–division principle

(4) The chronometrical principle

(5) The breach principle

(6) The Christ–centric principle

(7) The moral principle

These principles are grouped together because they each arise out of the interpretation of the purposes of God as revealed in Scripture. The principles all assume the practice of allowing the whole of God’s revealed purpose to effect the interpretation of the parts of His revelation. In using these principles, the interpreter will be causing the interpreted whole to affect the interpretation of its individual parts. The third group of principles is spoken of as the Figures of Speech Group. They are as follows:

(1) The symbolic principle

(2) The numerical principle

(3) The typical principle

(4) The parabolic principle

(5) The allegorical principle

Any reader of Revelation will soon discover that it has numerous symbols woven throughout its chapters. Symbolic objects, creatures, actions, numbers, names, colours, directions and place are part of the language of Revelation. It is impossible to interpret Revelation without a proper understanding of that which is symbolic in the book. This specialised group of principles may be grouped together because they deal with figures of speech or extensions of them. Of course, these do not comprise the entire figures of speech group used in scripture. These are included as principles due to their prominence in scripture, and the difficulties that they present in interpretation. Also, the interpreter realises that he cannot interpret the Book of Revelation without using some of these principles.

In this group each of them use symbols. There are symbols used in types, parables and allegories. These symbolic elements have to be interpreted first in order to properly interpret the literary style of the passage of Scripture in which they may be used.

Rather than define and explain each of these guiding hermeneutic principles, it will suffice to demonstrate how eccentric an interpretation can become without them. For this purpose we will use the continuous historic interpretation, which by its very premise is riddled with inconsistencies.

Example (1) Taken from Christadelphian Studies, a supplement to logos magazine.

‘In scripture, one day prophetically represents one year (Ezek.4:5). One day is also typical of one thousand years (Psa.90:4). If (a) one day equals (b) one year and (a) one day equals (c) one thousand years, then (b) one year also equals (c) one thousand years. In other words, if a=b and a=c, then b=c. This is elementary logic.”

This may well be ‘elementary logic, but only if you are working on an algebra problem, NOT for interpreting scripture!

The substitution of years for days is a fundamental question as Graham Pearce concedes in his book; The Revelation – which interpretation. He devotes a complete chapter to justifying the substitution of 1260 years for 1260 days. Arguing that Revelation is a book of symbol,he states: ‘It is not permissible to arbitrarily select some items and make them literal when the basis of the book is symbol’.

In this we would all agree, we cannot arbitrarily decide whether something is symbolic or literal. It is the context which decides. (The first hermeneutic principle) The whole Bible is a book of symbol and often we automatically conclude whether something is meant literally or symbolically without even conscious acknow-ledgement.

The context of the1260 days, 3½ years or 42 months is that of the witnesses, whose ministry is based on that of Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness (Rev.1:5) and that of Elijah whose ministry was also 3½ years. (James 5:17 compare Rev.11:6; for further reading see chapter 11 of this book). The context demands that 1260 days = 3½ years. When something is obviously symbolic (like the holy city that G.P. uses as an example) it is stated as such, ‘coming down from God out of heaven’ (Rev.21:1); the measurements for the holy city could never be mistaken as literal, for the context discounts this. To take a verse out of context (Ps.90:4 a Psalm of Moses) and use it as a general principle of interpretation is utterly absurd.

In context the verse means that God is timeless, whereas Moses, who knew he was going to die shortly (and not enter the land) could ask God to:

‘teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom’. (Ps.90: 12)

If we follow this reductio ad absurdum how do we know that 1260 days = 1260 years and not for example 1,260,000 years? (a day = a thousand years – Ps.90:4). Or do we assert (as Graham Pearce says) that the ‘decorum of the symbol’ would not stand for such a long time period. This is a classy way of saying if it doesn’t fit, we won’t use it!

Example (2)’“The man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron’ (Rev.12:5). This is understood to be Constantine, the man-child, as the champion of the Christians defeats his pagan rivals, and is the sole ruler in the ‘heaven’ of the Roman world. The context of this quote, which is from Ps.2:9 demands that it can only be used of Christ (or by proxy, of his ecclesia – see Rev.2:27) especially since this Psalm was extensively quoted by the apostles during their witnessing campaign in the first century. (Acts 4: 26-27 note the words thy holy child Jesus = man child). Have our senses become so dulled with dogma that we no longer recognise passages that speak of our Lord?

‘I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep and am known of mine.’ (John 10:14)

This is no longer exegesis but exit Jesus. If proper hermeneutic principles are not adhered to we no longer have a valid interpretation.

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