Interpreting Prophecy Today Part 1: Basic Considerations in Interpreting Prophecy -- By: John F. Walvoord

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 139:553 (Jan 1982)
Article: Interpreting Prophecy Today Part 1: Basic Considerations in Interpreting Prophecy
Author: John F. Walvoord

Interpreting Prophecy Today
Part 1:
Basic Considerations in Interpreting Prophecy

John F. Walvoord

[John F. Walvoord, President and Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

The wide diversity in the interpretation of prophecy alerts anyone who approaches this field of biblical exegesis that there are also widely differing principles of interpretation. How can it be that reputable scholars who agree on many basic Christian doctrines interpret the prophetic portions of Scripture with such differing results? How can this be explained?

Differing Views of the Bible

One of the most obvious reasons for difference in interpretation in prophecy is that scholars do not all regard the Bible as having the same authority and accuracy. Liberal theologians tend to regard the Bible as a human instrument written by fallible men, and therefore conclude that the Scriptures are not infallible. It is understandable that liberals have no clear conclusions about the future. Some question the validity of prediction itself on the grounds that no one knows the future. Others accept the premise that prophecy is in some cases true and in other cases not true. This leaves the interpreter with the difficult question of sorting out the true from the false. Generally, there is little scholarly discussion of prophecy among those who are clearly liberal in their approach to the Bible.

Among conservatives who regard the Bible as authoritative in prophecy as in history, a more serious attempt is made to try to determine what the Bible actually reveals. Here the diversity is

not based on the premise that the Bible in some respects is untrue; instead, the difficulty arises in various schools of interpretation.

Major Schools of Interpretation

Most Bible scholars recognize at least three major approaches to prophecy, all dealing primarily with the doctrine of the millennium. The most ancient view, that of the church of the first few centuries, was what is known today as premillennialism or chiliasm. Premillenarians assert that the second coming of Christ will precede a millennium or a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Chiliasm is another word (derived from the Greek χιλιὸς “one thousand”) which affirms the same doctrine. Most impartial interpreters of the history of doctrine agree that premillennialism was the doctrine of the early church. Adherents of this view hold that Christ taught that His second coming would be followed by His kingdom on earth, as indicated in such passages as Matthew 20:20–23; You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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