Rules of Interpretation

By 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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