If you had to instruct someone on how to interpret the Bible, how would you go about doing it? There are many books on how to interpret the Bible. These books in and of themselves aren’t bad, but the ordinary Christian is not going to spend time taking a hermeneutics course and studying these texts.
R.C. Sproul’s primer Knowing Scripture is helpful. I always begin with the Bible itself. Let the Bible interpret itself. Two recent encounters with specific texts brought this methodology to mind for me.
Someone asked about the mark of the beast and buying and selling. Marking the hand and forehead is not difficult to figure out if you start with the Bible. Many prophecy enthusiasts make an appeal to current affairs, what Greg L. Bahnsen described as “newspaper exegesis.” This is the tail wagging the dog. There are a number of places in Scripture where marking the hand and forehead are found:
- You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. (Deut. 6:8; also Ex. 13:9, 16; Deut. 11:8).
- The LORD said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst” (Ezek. 9:4; also Rev. 7:2-3).
These are obviously not bar codes or RFID chips. This is not to say that getting chipped is a good idea; it’s only to point out that the Bible is describing something else. With a little comparative digging, a student of the Bible can figure out what the Bible means about marking the hand and forehead.
If we start to claim that what’s being described in Revelation 13:16-18 is about modern-day surveillance technology, then we have a problem with the first verse in the next chapter of Revelation:
Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads (14:1).
If Revelation 13 is about modern-day technology, then what do we do with the mark of the lamb on a person’s forehead?
By letting the Bible interpret the Bible, we find a passage like the following:
“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name” (Rev. 3:12).
Then we get to Revelation 13:17 and buying and selling. Where have we read this before? “And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who were selling doves” (Matt. 21:12; also, John 2:14-16). Access to the temple was corrupted by the money changers and the priesthood that let it happen and most likely profited by it. They had turned the temple into a robber’s den. Those who went along with the system had identified with an obsolete edifice (the temple?) that was about to be judged and demolished (Matt. 24:1-3).
Buying and selling, in terms of the Bible, is not always about commerce; it most likely has something to do with the temple and the religious apostasy that was prevalent in Jerusalem in the lead up to the destruction of the temple. Take notice of Luke 17:28 where “buying and selling” are set in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem in their generation.
The mark of the beast — 666 — applied to both the sea (Rome) and land (apostate Israel) beasts. The corrupt Jews had declared, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15) and continued to persecute the Christians up until the Temple’s destruction. The true temple dwellers in the New Jerusalem have the name of Jesus “and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Rev. 14:1). They don’t need to “buy and sell” in the temple because Jesus (“the Lamb”: 14:1) is their access to redemption. He is the temple and we are “living stones … being built as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).
There may be more going on, but I will contend that these are the places to start. Begin with the biblical material and work your way through the material to get a Bible-eye view.
While working on an article about how to respond to false accusations, I came across this passage:
Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” (Acts 23:1-3).
Sure enough, there’s a passage in Ezekiel that mentions whitewashed walls in relation to specific events:
Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy from their own inspiration, ‘Listen to the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God, “Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing. O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes among ruins. You have not gone up into the breaches, nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel to stand in the battle on the day of the Lord. They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, ‘The Lord declares,’ when the Lord has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word. Did you not see a false vision and speak a lying divination when you said, ‘The Lord declares,’ but it is not I who have spoken?”’”
Therefore, thus says the Lord God, “Because you have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against you,” declares the Lord God. “So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord God. It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash; so tell those who plaster it over with whitewash, that it will fall. A flooding rain will come, and you, O hailstones, will fall; and a violent wind will break out. Behold, when the wall has fallen, will you not be asked, ‘Where is the plaster with which you plastered it?’”
Therefore, thus says the Lord God, “I will make a violent wind break out in My wrath. There will also be in My anger a flooding rain and hailstones to consume it in wrath. So I will tear down the wall which you plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation is laid bare; and when it falls, you will be consumed in its midst. And you will know that I am the Lord. Thus I will spend My wrath on the wall and on those who have plastered it over with whitewash; and I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and its plasterers are gone, along with the prophets of Israel who prophesy to Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’ declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 13:15-16).
What is this prophecy in reference to? The destruction of the temple and judgment on Israel under the Old Covenant. Did Paul have this passage in mind in his response to the high priest? The high priest sure reacted swiftly with force after hearing it. He most likely knew the connection.
Was Paul saying that the apostate Jewish religious leaders were like the false prophets of Ezekiel’s day? (1 John 4:1; 2 Pet. 2:1). Were they the “scoffers”/”mockers” that Peter mentioned? (2 Pet. 3:3). Jesus had prophesied about their generation (Matt. 24:34). That generation was coming to a close and many were saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4).
The best way to learn the Bible and interpret the Bible is to begin with the Bible.