Why Biblical Prophecy Should be Interpreted Normally/Objectively

Of the two major interpretive systems only Dispensationalism subscribes to a consistently normal/objective (literal) interpretation of Scripture. In other words, Dispensationalism represents a truly exegetical method of interpretation.

By literal interpretation, dispensationalists do not mean that one should ignore figures of speech or various literary devices like symbols. Literal interpretation requires that these forms be understood according to the prevailing usage at the time they were recorded. Thus, the key to interpreting symbols is to ask the question, “How would they have been under­stood by the writer’s contemporaries,” assuming they already understood what had been previously revealed.

A consistently normal/objective method of interpretation is superior for at least two reasons. First, it is the only method by which exegesis (deriving meaning out of the text) is possible. If we accept that the Bible is God’s communication to man and that God intends for man to understand that communication, we can only conceive of God as using human language in a rational and logical manner, according to prevailing usage at the time of composition. The reason is that this is the only way man could ever discern the intended meaning, because the rules of language apply only when language is being used in its normal, conventional sense. Second, Scripture in general, and prophecy in particular, makes sense when interpreted normally/objectively. The normal/objective method is the method of interpretation that we depend upon for other areas of doctrine, including fulfilled prophecy, so it is only consistent to apply it to future prophecy as well. It is worth observing that all prophecy in the Bible that has been fulfilled has been fulfilled in a manner consistent with normal/objective interpreta­tion.

The application of a dual, normal/allegorical system of interpretation results in inconsis­tencies. For example, it results in the first sixty-nine “weeks” of Daniel’s “seventy-weeks” prophecy (Dan. 9:24-27) being interpreted literally but the last, or seventieth week, being taken figuratively. Or, in the case of Christ’s advent, it requires a literal interpretation of the first advent of Christ and a non-literal interpretation of the events associated with the second coming, even though they may be contained within the same passage. Once the decision is made to depart from a consistently normal/objective manner of interpretation, interpretation becomes merely the opinion of the interpreter, and it cannot be solidly linked to the text through any known or generally agreed upon standards of communication. What would happen in a modern communications infrastructure if the receiving-end applied what­ever communications protocols it wished; or what if it applied a particular protocol simply because it appeared to support what the receiving-end “thought” was the meaning of the communication (albeit, non-literal and subjective); or worse yet, what if it applied no proto­col at all? This is what allegorization does.

In summary, here are at least three key advantages of the normal method of interpretation. 1) The literal method anchors interpretation in fact, rather than subjective opinion. 2) The literal method promotes restraint in the interpretive process, since interpretation cannot go beyond the clear statements of Scripture. 3) The literal method is the cornerstone of ortho­dox theology. Its abandonment in other areas of theology can lead, and has led to apostasy, and its abandonment in the area of future prophecy is a step in that direction.

[Copyright 2005, 2017 by Sam A. Smith. Adapted from What the Bible Says About the Future, second edition, by Sam A. Smith, http://www.BiblicalReaderCommunications.com]