Rules of InterpretationBy Dan Vis
April 21, 2019
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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CommentsWhat 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 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 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 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 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...
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