What was your worst subject in school? Mine was math. It wasn’t that I was bad at it, I just did not have a desire for it. My last math class was around 15 years ago and I haven’t looked back.
Let’s say that I wake up one day with a passion for math and I want to pursue it. Now bear in mind, I haven’t taken math in 15 years, and my aptitude for it is probably at an algebra 1 level. What math course would you recommend I take? If you want me to succeed you would tell me to take a course that refreshes what I know, or is the next step above algebra 1. You wouldn’t recommend that I take calculus of trigonometry courses unless you want me to fail.
That illustration is so simple and it applies to anything that can be studied. If we want to be advanced or an expert in something we need to begin with a foundation. The same is true for the bible. An honest study of the word of God will thrill your soul and reveal truth that will change everything about you. But many parts of the Bible require some foundational knowledge. We could call it elementary math of the Bible.
Unfortunately, many people have no respect for this principle toward Bible study. It is common for someone to open the Bible, read a passage, and then start to give their opinion of what that particular verse means to them. For many churches, that is their idea of what constitutes good “bible study”. But the Bible was never meant to be interpreted based on what you feel about a passage, or what you have experienced in life, or even what you “think” about it.
2 Peter 1:20 says, “Know this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation”. That means the bible wasn’t meant to be interpreted with a post-modern “my truth/your truth” attitude. While there may be many applications, there are not many correct interpretations. Peter follows that statement by explaining why it is the case, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man”(1:21). Man didn’t originate the word of God, therefore man doesn’t get to decide what it means.
We’re not going to come to the right answer by “feelings”. Right answers are only found after diligent study (Acts 17:11, 2 Tim 2:15). Sometimes, a passage may need a lot more study than another passage. To be a good bible student work needs to be put into the foundational elements.
Even more so for the teacher. James warns that teachers will be held to a stricter judgement (James 3:1). God doesn’t want a teacher to get up and simultaneously display their feelings and ignorance of a text under the illusion of “depth”. He wants the truth presented so it can be obeyed (Eph 4:15, 1 Cor 4:14).
There is no greater example for this idea than what people have done with the Revelation. Revelations contains some vivid pictures that captivate the mind and get our imagination going. That is a feature of the book. But those pictures are constantly misapplied and distorted because people have no foundation of truth to help them understand it.
In Rev 1:1 it says, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants. Things which must shortly take place”. If I really want to know how to interpret this book, shouldn’t I keep it in my mind that the things written in this book must shortly take place to those who originally received it?
The majority of the prophetic information is to the seven churches of Asia (1:4). They were the ones who could expect these visions to take place. Virtually, the only part of this book that remains in the future is the judgement and eternity. Remember, The Revelation was given to them. Not you. What it meant to them, it has to mean to you.
There needs to be a bedrock of foundational biblical truth to understand the visions of the Revelation. Hebrews 5:12 says “you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God”. Those basic principles are given in 6:1-2. Two of those listed are, the resurrection, and of eternal judgement. Before I begin to try and figure out what these visions of Revelation are, I should have a foundation of what the Bible teaches about the resurrection and judgement.
Difficult passages should always be interpreted by the clearer passages. One should never use a difficult text in a way that contradicts the clearer. If I go through the New Testament and I compile everything I can about the second coming of Christ it is clear. And it contradicts much of what people create from the book of Revelation.
Take the thousand year reign of Christ. This is the core tenant of premillennial dispensationalism. It all hinges on the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth. That notion is taken from a faulty interpretation of Rev 20:1-10. Granted, this is a difficult text. But a difficult text must never be used to create a new doctrine. Especially something that denies the Church as the Kingdom of Christ on earth.
When someone does the work of building a foundation of clear biblical teaching, they will still have difficulties with certain texts. They will not necessarily read a hard text like Rev 20 and immediately know what it’s saying. But they will protect themselves from being deceived by what it can’t be saying.
God spoke his word (2 Tim 3:16). It is the most powerful tool that he has given to mankind (Rom 1:16). Let’s respect it by seeking what He meant.