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Rules of Interpretation
By Dan Vis
April 21, 2019
Comments: 23

Since our featured class this month is on Bible Prophecy, I thought I'd pull out this article from last summers visit to New England. It's all about William Miller, and in particular, his rules of interpretation. May it inspire you to deeper study!

A few weeks back, my wife and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time exploring New England on my way to a family reunion being held in Maine. The forested mountains, stony rivers, covered bridges, old cemeteries, historic buildings, and more were a pleasure to behold.

We used the opportunity to visit a number of landmarks related to the birth of my particular denomination. Each was special in its own way, but one place stood out: William Miller's home.

William Miller was a baptist farmer from the mid 1800's, who after careful study became convinced the Lord's return was near. He eventually felt called to share his findings, and his humble efforts sparked a massive revival that ultimately spread around the globe. This "Great Advent Awakening" was one of the most powerful religious movements in the history of America.

While visiting his farm (largely restored), the maple grove where he was called to preach, the chapel he built next door, ascension rock, and even his tombstone--I was deeply moved by the impact of one man who studied the Bible deeply and gave himself to the service of Christ.

When converted, as an adult, he made the decision to study through the Bible, beginning in Genesis and continuing through it verse by verse, in order. As different questions came to mind, he would use a concordance to compare Scripture with Scripture and try to use the Bible to explain itself. He only advanced when he felt his question was answered.

As he worked through the Bible he established various rules of interpretation. While I was at his home, I got a copy of a list of these rules. Here are the basic guidelines Miller followed:


Rules of Interpretation

1.   Every word must have its proper bearing on the subject studied.
2.   All scripture is necessary.
3.   Nothing is hidden from those who ask.
4.   Use all scripture; if your theory does not contradict any, it is sound.
5.   Scripture must be it's own expositor.
6.   Combine all visions and parables on a subject.
7.   Visions are always mentioned as such.
8.   Figures always have a figurative meaning.
9.   Parables must be explained as figures.
10. The interpretation of figures must harmonize with other scripture.
11. If words do not violate good sense, take them literally.
12. Figures will be explained elsewhere in the Bible.
13. History will agree with prophecy.
14. The most important rule of all is, that you must have faith.



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Miller summarized the value of these rules in these inspiring words:

"These are some of the most important rules which I find the word of God warrants me to adopt and follow, in order for system and regularity. And if I am not greatly deceived, in so doing, I have found the Bible, as a whole, one of the most simple, plain, and intelligible books ever written, containing proof in itself of its Divine origin, and full of all knowledge that our hearts could wish to know or enjoy. I have found it a treasure which the world cannot purchase. It gives a calm peace in believing, and a firm hope in the future. It sustains the mind in adversity, and teaches us to be humble in prosperity. It prepares us to love and do good to others, and to realize the value of the soul. It makes us bold and valiant for the truth, and nerves the arm to oppose error. It gives us a powerful weapon to break down infidelity, and makes known the only antidote for sin. It instructs us how death will be conquered, and how the bonds of the tomb must be broken. It tells us of future events, and shows the preparation necessary to meet them. It gives us an opportunity to hold conversation with the King of kings, and reveals the best code of laws ever enacted."

This approach to theology, of using all of Scripture to build a systematic and harmonious interpretation of the Bible, is one of William Miller's most enduring legacies, and lies at the heart of good biblical exposition still today.


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Comments

What do you think of William Miller's rules of interpretation? How important is it to allow all of Scripture to speak on each topic? To make sure our interpretations are in harmony with the entirety of the Bible? Share a thought below...

Posted by Dan Vis on 04/28/19
You are very welcome Denise! Glad you enjoyed this. Very helpful guidelines for personal study of prophecy. :)
Posted by Denise Buglino on 04/24/19
I enjoyed the pictures and listened to the song "Another Time:". I didn't know it was Wm Miller's composition - so cool to know the background. I've heard the song before and liked it, but not aware of the context it was written for. Makes good sense now! I've copied the rules and will consciously endeavor to put them into practice. Thank you for sharing this Dan.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/24/19

Glad you enjoyed this Laurie. It definitely inspired me as well!

And good recommendations Carole: being thorough and giving study the time time it takes, combined with the Spirit's guidance. You are welcome!

Posted by Carole Bliss on 04/22/19
William Miller was so thorough.
He took the needed time to learn. This was the result of the Holy Spirit leading him
May we all seek His Spirit each day. It's vital. Good reading.
Thank you. Blessings Carole
Posted by Laurie Wissink on 04/22/19
I love the list of rules and the quote! I'm going to put these in front of my Morning Watch binder!
"I have found it (the Bible) a treasure which the world cannot purchase. It gives a calm peace in believing, and a firm hope in the future..." Alleluia!
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/07/18
True Qing. I guess that's why we use the phrase "systematic theology". :)
Posted by Qing Ling on 09/07/18

Patricia - I know the song of another time you are referring to. I love it. very moving. especially after watching Tell the World movie.

Dan - good post. This man was truly inspiring. And the OCD in me just loves how SYSTEMATIC his rules of interpretation are. Our God is a God of order! I Corinthians 14:40Let all things be done decently and in order.

Posted by Dan Vis on 08/01/18

Thanks John, Pastor Karl came to our church in Illinois and did a seminar on music and worship that I very much appreciated. I've known him from my time in Michigan. A great guy.

Your comment reminds me of Proverbs 4:18But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.. :)

The movie is definitely quite an inspiration Valerie. A good resource for those who want to learn more about Miller. And glad you enjoyed this article!

Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 08/01/18
What an inspiration he was. I recently watched the movie "Tell the World" again and found myself encouraged by the genuine love for truth that the early pioneers of this movement had. They were young people who loved the Lord Jesus and the hope of His appearing. Thanks for sharing this Dan!
Posted by John Gilmore on 08/01/18

Dan, the word "systematic" jumped out at me today, as I just learned that a friend of mine, Pastor Karl Tsatalbasidis, will be defending his doctoral dissertation in systematic theology this fall. (I'm eagerly waiting to see it.) From his facebook page:

The theme of the sanctuary is the most pervasive theme in all of Scripture. It is not only connected, but also interconnected with:

  • The doctrine of Scripture
  • God and the Issues Surrounding the Trinity including His presence and Omnipresence
  • The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan
  • The Issues Surrounding the Priesthood, Christ, and His Mediation
  • The Sacrificial System and the Various Themes Associated with Sin and Salvation
  • The Doctrine of the Church including Organization, Ecumenism, Authority, and Stewardship
  • The Issues that Surround Worship and Music
  • Prophecy and Last Day Events
.... His dissertation covers how God’s presence has been interpreted in corporate worship throughout Christian history with major implications for issues concerning the sanctuary, ecumenism, worship, and music.

Historically we know that God revealed much to William Miller through his diligent study, but not all was revealed. It wasn't until after the Disappointment that the sanctuary message could be seen. But thank God for the foundation of good principles of Bible study, which enabled others to advance more in the knowledge of truth.

Posted by Dan Vis on 07/31/18
You are more than welcome Jeanette. Inheriting such a solid approach to bible study is indeed a rich blessing.
Posted by Jeanette Jean Bawengan on 07/31/18
Thank you for sharing this wonderful legacy.
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/30/18

Strange the page they hand out there is missing what William Miller claimed to be the most important rule! :) Anyway, I added it above...

I've not heard the song you mentioned but his statement about fixing his mind on "today" rather than another date, shows the strength of his faith, and his love for Christ. He could have lost his way, but he stayed true to God. A great encouragement to us today! So meaningful...

Thanks for your comment Patricia!

Posted by Patricia Jones on 07/30/18
Enjoyed the pictures, Dan. I was there this past Sabbath for the annual William Miller Campmeeting. It was inspiring as always. I have two sets of William Miller's Rules of Interpretation: one the 14 from SDA Truths, the other with 13 that was handed out a year or so ago at the Washington Church annual meeting. The special music last Sabbath was "I have Fixed My Mind (On Another Time) based on what Miller wrote after the disappointment and another beautiful song "Gather the Roses" based on the story of the dream in the last chapter of Steps to Christ. I always love singing the old Advent hymns too. Back to what you asked, Miller derived his rules from Scripture and was certainly guided by the Holy Spirit as he studied.   He was willing to put in the time and effort to dig deep. It is vital that we use all of Scripture to form our beliefs and that we be open to the Holy Spirit's guidance.
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/30/18

Thanks Bill! I found a copy online. Turns out the above was just a summary of William Miller's own rules. I found the original language and posted a link to it above in a handy pdf. Comes with verses to support each rule--a nice study of it's own.

And it turns out there was a 14th rule Gloria. I've updated the list above. Not sure why it wasn't included in my handout, but glad it is on the list now. According to Miller, it was the most important rule of all!

Posted by Gloria Bernard on 07/30/18
Okay, Dan, thank you, I only know since I have been here in Florida, every time William Miller's Rules were brought up, it was always said that there were 14 rules.
Posted by Bill Hough on 07/30/18
At the website Advent Pioneer Library under William Miller[Vol.1 No.2]has Miller's Rules of Interpretation and more.It is a more detailed list from "Lest We Forget Volume 1-Number 2. Good read.
Posted by Dan Vis on 07/30/18

You're right Ajay! This is Sola Scripture. Many don't realize Sola Scripture implies all of Scripture must have a voice. Not just the verses that appear to support our beliefs. Good point!

I'm not aware of a 14th rule Gloria. There were only 13 on the sheet I had. :)

Yes Lynn, the Bible has an amazing inner consistency unlike any other book. William Miller evidently saw it that ways as his rules of interpretation seem to be based on that conviction. Good observation!

And I really liked rule #3 also Carole. So powerful. I'm not sure I agree with it completely (Deuteronomy 29:29The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.), but it does encourage us to come "boldly to throne of grace" for answers to every question. And we'll never get answers to questions we don't ask. William Miller no doubt wouldn't have made the prophetic discoveries he did without this assurance God would unlock every verse to his understanding...

Posted by Carole Bliss on 07/30/18
I really liked all scripture is necessary.
Also, nothing is hidden from those who ask.
This especially struck me.
All in all, I like his deep and thorough plan he had in place. It is obvious, GOD was working in him.
Thank-you for sharing this message, and the photos.
Blessings
Carole
Posted by Lynn Badger on 07/30/18
I really appreciate your sharing Miller's rules of interpretation. The Bible is set apart from any other book because the story holds true from Genesis to Revelation! I praise God that Miller studied like that or we may never have learned the whole truth.
Posted by Gloria Bernard on 07/30/18
Maybe it was added later.
Posted by Gloria Bernard on 07/30/18
I agree with the rules, but where is the 14th rule?
Posted by Ajay Nenavathu on 07/30/18
Hi
Good definition of solas scripture ... thanks for sharing

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