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12.1. The Importance of Interpretation

The importance of having an objective guide to interpret the text can be seen in the following comments of Gregg who has taught the book of Revelation over a considerable period of time. “Over the next decade, I found myself favoring first one view and then another as I became aware of the merits of each.”1 “Revelation was written to be understood and to confer a blessing upon its readers, . . . Some readers may be curious about my own approach to the book of Revelation. It is not my desire to showcase my own opinions (which have changed a number of times and may do so again in the future) . . . ” [emphasis added]2

When those who purport to guide the inexperienced shift between the major interpretive views, is it any wonder many despair of ever understanding this book? The adverse effects of a waffling teacher upon his students is surely one of the reasons why teachers will receive greater judgment (Jas. Jas. 3:1). “Many are told that scholars themselves are woefully divided as to the meaning of this prophecy. And if godly men who study God’s Word cannot figure out its meaning, how can the average Christian? With such a comprehensive and interpretive mountain to climb, Revelation unfortunately remains a closed book to many people.”3

If experienced teachers are so unsure about how to approach the text that they admit they may be teaching quite different conclusions to the next batch of students who follow their guidance, how valuable can such guidance be in the first place? Such an approach denies the perspicuity of Scripture and the stated intention God gives for the book (Rev. Rev. 1:1+, Rev. 1:3+)!

Gregg’s words above underscore the importance of being consistent in one’s system of interpretation. If one is unsure about the principles underlying how to read and understand the text, then confusion and lack of conviction are sure to be the result. This can hardly result in the blessing promised by God (Rev. Rev. 1:3+).

Since every interpreter makes a commitment, implicitly if not explicitly, to a particular system of interpretation, it is important to recognize errors which result when any one of the systems is taken to an unbiblical extreme:

A return to the Biblical text is the only recourse in this strife of opposing theories. The truth in each [interpretive system] is drawn from its accord with the statements of Revelation; the error in each arises from an overextension of the truth or from an exaggeration of some one interest.4

In the treatment of interpretive systems which follows, considerably more space is devoted to describing the preterist system. Although it is our view that only the futurist interpretation properly reflects the intended meaning of the text and that the other views are to be faulted in their departure from literal hermeneutics, we spend extra time on preterism because of its seeming rise in popularity at the time of our writing. It is our hope to expose the major shortcomings of the approach so that some who might have been swayed by its teachings are better able to discern the dangers.

For an excellent chart by Daniel Atkin, Robert Sloan, and Craig Blaising summarizing and comparing the views of the different interpretive systems with respect to the book of Revelation, see [Trent C. Butler, Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, eds., Broadman and Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2003), s.v. “Revelation”].


Notes

1 Steve Gregg, Revelation Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1.

2 Ibid., 4.

3 Mal Couch, “Why is Revelation Important?,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 16.

4 Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1957), 144.

5 Trent C. Butler, Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, eds., Broadman and Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2003), s.v. “Revelation.”