With the passage of time it has become apparent to many that some mistakes have been made in the way that these two books, Daniel and Revelation, have been dealt with. I believe that they should be publicized, and corrections made accordingly so that all might learn from them, humbly make any relevant reinterpretations and attempt to never repeat those mistakes. These two books, a significant portion of which is made up of pictorial symbols, must be understood in the way the writers intended.
It is a well-accepted principle of Scriptural interpretation that the Bible interprets itself. This is my aim here. While we may look at the news media for the fulfillment of the prophecies, we are unwise to use the media to interpret the prophecies. It follows, then, that a correct identification of the fulfillment is only possible with a correct interpretation of the prophecy itself. Where there is no specific explanation of a symbol by the Biblical author, probably none is intended. Rather, it makes good sense, until an explanation is evident, that the imagery, the moving picture of events, was intended to make an impression on the reader. It follows that a reader familiar with other books of the Bible will have an advantage over the one who is not.
There have been several methods of interpretation of apocalyptic prophecies. These are the preterist (with fulfillment in the past), the futurist (with fulfillment in the future), the historicist (with fulfillment throughout history) and the idealist (with no specific incidents forecast but rather a forecast of ideas and philosophies that will emerge in the future). Each method of interpretation has its strengths and its weaknesses. There are aspects in some visions that are still without interpretation. Maybe there is room for another method of interpretation: the impressionist. And this could be true given the fact that the apocalyptic prophets were “visionaries”, writing down, rather than drawing, what they saw.
Both the Book of the Prophet Daniel and The Revelation have been the happy hunting-ground of would-be seers seeking a following. Because of the self-interest of such persons the truth becomes distorted, what I would call “eschatological hypochondria” sets in, and the flock loses sight of the one true Shepherd. In some tragic cases the flocks have been destroyed and members have lost their lives. Christian principles of living are often neglected, ignored in the apocalyptic madness. It’s as if God accepts experts in eschatology yet who are deficient in charity.
In other instances, rather than being a unifying influence, Daniel and Revelation, because of the way they have been used, have often divided people and become the cause of controversy. This is not to say that this series is guaranteed to bring everyone together. I wish it would! I hope it does.
Because no Bible book is really open to private interpretation, our understanding must be determined by their authors in the first place and by the rest of Scripture in the second. Interpretations which ignore these must be considered either spurious at the worst or untrustworthy at the least.
Many a time, complicated explanations and interpretations have deterred individuals from studying the books for themselves. They have feared arriving at conclusions which might contradict those held by the larger group or those which had at first attracted them. And so, favorite passages have been read and reread, the others left unread.
The Book of Revelation itself tells us, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near (1:3).” Some have felt blessed by the portions they have read but are discouraged by their not being able to understand the rest. Obviously here is a lack that demands immediate attention. Both Bible readers and Bible students should be encouraged to read it all and be amenable to considering matters previously overlooked, matters which might be learned from a commentary or even a contemporary.
Here I have listed some mistakes of which I have become aware and to which I am sensitive, mistakes from which we might learn, and consequently avoid.
There has been
- among lay people a widespread ignorance of the text from which the translations have been made
- a dependence on the translation without reference to the original text
- an unwillingness to read modern translations of the Scriptures with their advantage of better knowledge of the ancient manuscripts and text
- a piecemeal approach with an emphasis on selective readings without reference to either the rest of the book or the rest of the Bible
- an attention to detail at the expense of the overall message, to minutiae rather than the weightier matters! (The trees have blinded the picture of the forest.)
- a failure, it seems to me, to implement the common rules of comprehension that we were taught in school
- an unthinking dependence on the interpretation of a popular writer whether a commentator or novelist
- the need to let the Bible speak for itself, uninfluenced by sectarian demands
This series is but my attempt to look at the two books, the Prophecy of Daniel and the Revelation of St. John the Divine, as books, and not as a collection of proof-texts. Because these books are an integral part of that sacred collection known as the Bible their message will complement, and be complemented by, the rest of Scripture. It is my hope that this will be an incentive to the reader to return to the Scriptures and let them speak for themselves. In their reading may you replace any fear of the future with faith in the Savior.
And in your private study of the books themselves, fear not. I hope the following will encourage you.
I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
There names are What and Why and When
And Where and How and Who.
These “Six Honest Serving Men” of Rudyard Kipling’s poem belong to us all. They await our employment along with care, prayer and sanctified common sense!
© 2010, Angus McPhee
Photo: View from the Cut River Bridge on the Lake Michigan Scenic Highway, October 2016 (© 2016, Angus McPhee)