Sorry for the pause but I felt it was necessary to rethink and refocus. I should have started my blog by talking about how we are to understand and interpret Scripture, so we are going to do that now. We are going to approach Hermeneutics (the rules for understanding scripture) by using a specific passage, Revelation 9:1-5, to illustrate the principles.
Revelation Chapter 9:1-5
“The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the abyss. 2 When he opened the abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and the sky were darkened by the smoke from the abyss, 3 And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of the scorpion when it strikes.”
Okay, quick course on hermeneutics/rules for interpreting scripture:
- What was the author’s original intention and meaning? To whom was he writing? How would they have understood this passage?
- What is the context of this passage? How does it fit with the verses that precede this passage?
- What type of language is used? Literal? Symbolic? Figurative? Prophetic?
- How does scripture interpret scripture? Is there somewhere else in scripture that can help us understand this passage?
We are going to look at each of these questions and apply them to the above passage. This will only be a high-level view.
Point 1, author’s original intention and meaning: The Apostle John is writing to seven specific (Rev 2-3) Christian churches in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) that existed in about 95 AD. He is explaining visions he was given. Readers would know who John was. Having access to both the gospels and the epistles, they would most likely be familiar with the concept of being “sealed of God.” They’d have been taught that angels –both good and fallen- exist. Being familiar with both locusts and scorpions in their area of the world, they would have recognized that something was “funny” about these particular locusts since real locusts do eat grass, plants and trees and do not sting people.
Point 2, context: We know this is occurring in a vision of things that will take place at a later date (Rev 1:19). In general we know that there are a series of judgements executed by Jesus at the direction of His Father upon sinful mankind. (Rev: 5) We know that this is the fifth of the trumpets of judgements. (Rev 9:1) We know that this is a really bad judgment in the midst of many bad judgements (Rev 8:13)
Point 3, type of language: John is hearing and seeing something unusual and is trying to explain it in everyday language. In this passage it seems that he uses literal language for stars, key, abyss. However, how can a “key” be given to a “star” and how can the abyss be opened with a key? So we have to consider it symbolic. Remember your high grammar lessons?
Metaphors saying something “is” something else but which it is not literally true
Similes directly compares two things using words such as “like”, “as”, or “than”,
John uses both throughout the Book of Revelation. He uses similes (like) “like smoke from a gigantic furnace,” “power like that of scorpions,” “agony like the sting of a scorpion.” Another type of language used is symbolic. In this passage a star is used to symbolize an angel. Remember that John does not understand exactly what he is seeing and certainly doesn’t have the vocabulary words to describe it.
Point 4, scripture interprets scripture: When we read the Bible there is often a notation in the margins or at the bottom of the page. These footnotes give us a cross reference to other Bible verses that talk about the same thing. In our selected passage from Revelation, the words/phrases with cross references include abyss, furnace, sun and sky darkened, locusts, scorpions, harm, trees, foreheads, torture, and 5 months all have references to other Bible verses. We are supposed to check these other scripture passages before we come to any conclusion about the meaning of the passage we’re reading. In other words, we are to Look It Up.
Next time we’ll use these same Bible verses and look at the four primary ways of interpreting Revelation and prophecy in general.
Please, neither off-handedly accept nor reject what is said in this blog. Check it out. Look it up for yourself in the Bible. If you are a child of God, you are in good hands and there is the most wonderful eternity waiting for you. If you are not a Christ follower, now is a really good time to honestly explore the truth claims of the Bible.