Revelation: Our Options for Interpretation

George D.,
I think we can get into a semantic minefield here discussing the differences between knowledge, belief and faith.

Many say James was the first NT book written. That, plus that fact that it was addressed to believers coming out of Judaism (1:1), a system which believed the way to salvation was by works (Ex 19:8; Matt 19:16-20) means, in my mind, that it is a sort of transition from the Old Covenant of righteousness by human works to the New Covenant of what Christ Jesus has done for us, ‘ …who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,’ (1Cor 1:30).

Certainly faith should lead to a changed life and resulting good works. My reference to 1Cor 3:11-15 was to show that even the works of those who have faith (whose foundation is Christ) will be judged by the fire (law) of God come judgment day and there will be rewards and punishments (going through fire) based on those works.

‘…each man’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If anyone’s work which he has built on the foundation endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss. But he will be saved, still going through fire.’

Certain rewards (which I have tried to outline in a prior comment on this thread) or penalties or punishments result from this examination of our works. But I don’t believe salvation is the issue in this judgment. Salvation is a gift, the righteousness of Christ imputed or reckoned to our account.

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Hello 2ndOpinion:
Thank you for your response. There’s a lot there, so I’ll try and cut to the chase.

Can you please demonstrate where a verse, passage or book in scripture originally meant “x,” but through history and “the revelation of the Spirit” it now has a different meaning?
Thanks, RT

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Hi Steve,
It’s interesting trying to understand the concepts of spirit, soul and body.

One idea that has stuck with me is that Passover (justification) relates to the spirit, Pentecost (sanctification) to the soul, and Tabernacles (glorification) to the body.

Much as Christ was planted within Mary physically by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ has been planted within each of us because of what Christ has done i.e., the gospel (1Peter 1:23). This is the new creation life that is growing within and will come forth at the time of our glorification. Our very nature is in the process of being changed, which, as you point out, expresses itself in our behaviours. I believe you are right in saying God will make this happen. ‘…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure’ (Phil 2:13).

One commentator said that sin entered the world when Adam & Eve allowed the soul to usurp the position of control rightly held by the spirit (the part of man in communion with God).

God has not yet seen fit to fully remove our sinful, Adamic nature (which I think manifests in the soul and was legally executed on the cross). I believe He wants us to learn to overcome it much as Paul was challenged to do (as he said in Romans 7). I think that one of His reasons is that in the roles (past and future) He has set out for us, we will meet many who have not yet overcome and we will thus have our own internal experience to apply in our encounters with them.

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I appreciate this paper by Richard Pratt, one of my OT instructors at RTS. Historical Contingencies and Biblical Predictions.
All human methods of describing an exact interpretive method fail on some points. I appreciate Richard’s placing emphasis on the major points in his paper.

Let’s stay with Revelation, since that is the text at hand.

As I stated in an earlier post, Revelation has a long and varied history of interpretation. To whom do the beastly powers refer? An early (and perhaps original) candidate was imperial Rome. Yet after Constantine’s “conversion” and during Athanasius’ struggle to consolidate the church’s clergy, creed and canon, Athanasius favored an interpretation that no longer pinpointed Rome but “heresy personified” (so Pagels). In fact, had it not been for Athanasius, it seems Revelation may have never made it into the New Testament canon, as apart from his Letter there was widespread resistance to the book. Centuries later, Luther also opposed the inclusion of Revelation in the Protestant Bible, until he discovered its usefulness in condemning the Catholic Church, which then became his favored interpretation of the beastly powers. During the Civil War, both sides in the conflict used verses from Revelation to demonize their enemies. On and on it goes.

Casting an eye over this history, one could become cynical as to the way that readings of Revelation have been politicized. I am no more certain how one might trace the work of God’s Spirit in all of this than I am of how to determine the exact meaning the original author had in mind. Except, perhaps, to begin examining–as many apocalyptic scholars have–not only what the text means but how it functions.

What do we know about how the apocalyptic genre was intended to work? Who were texts like these written for and what were they meant to accomplish among that readership? Here, a clearer picture emerges. The apocalyptic genre–no matter the meanings assigned to one symbol or another–seem to function in a rather consistent manner. Such books identify one’s enemies/oppressors, redraw maps of reality in light of a heavenly revelation, and announce the eventual defeat one’s enemies and the restoration of all that is good and just. We can also observe (as David has mentioned) the best and worst tendencies related to how this literature has functioned across a wide variety of contexts. It has been used, for instance, to demonize others and even justify violence. It has also be used to bring hope and perseverance to those who are suffering persecution and injustice. Here, I think, we can begin to make judgments as to where the Spirit may or may not be operating within a given interpretation or use of the text.

Since I am somewhat skeptical about our ability to determine with any precision authorial intent, it is hard for me to answer your question. I am much more prone to asking, how might this text have been understood/used in the original context and how has it been understood/used down through the ages? Can we discern within that history a movement of God’s Spirit, particularly as we judge the fruits of that history against the fruits of the Spirit?

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Except the book itself never identifies the seven churches as seven stages of church history, as the denomination teaches. They were seven literal churches on a postal road in Asia Minor. The view of those churches representing separate time periods of the church comes from an historicist method of interpretation, and is not the most natural way to read the text. It is a framework being imposed on the text by a school of interpretation. That is subjective bias, whether you realize it or not.

It also creates problems for contemporary application. To say that the church at Laodicea represents the modern Adventist church as the culmination of the oracles to the seven, ignores the diversity of church situations and various faithful Christian fellowships all over the world. Are Christians in China, or Iran, or Iraq, or North Korea, who face persecution for their faith, all part of the Laodicean age? How about churches in Africa and Asia, where an explosion of Christianity is happening, but in some cases is also mixed with paying respect to ancestral spirits in a syncretistic blend? How does the Laodicean message apply to them?

To read the text in Revelation as being to seven literal churches, in seven literal cities, facing various literal issues in their own time, opens it up to being applied to Christians of all time and all places, where and how it is appropriate. The messages have always had force and application and continue to equally when and where they apply, to those struggling under persecution, with the danger of compromise, false teaching, etc. This is far preferable to forcing each church into a pre-determined time period to fit an historicist scheme of interpretation, that simply is not in the text.



The reformers are not the last word on Revelation. There is much modern scholarship, using the advances in textual, linguistic, cultural, archaeological, and historical knowledge, that has gone beyond and even broken at points with the understanding of the reformers concerning Revelation, the gospel, and the Bible itself.

This leads me to two observations:

  1. We wouldn’t think of going to a doctor who still practices 16th or even 19th c. medicine. But, we think that this is a virtue in the practice of theology. Appealing to age, antiquity, and authority has nothing to do with the validity of an argument or an interpretation. (I believe that EGW even had something to say about this). Such appeals carry no logical weight. And, they ignore the advances that have come in theological knowledge, as they have come in other fields of endeavor.

  2. We appeal to the reformers only where they agree with Adventist theology. We have no qualms over pointing out where we think the reformers were wrong about the sabbath, etc. But, I’ve seen so many Adventists appeal to them when it comes to trying to validate historicism, or identifying the papacy as the beast of Revelation. This runs along the line of agreeing or disagreeing with them based on whether they agree with Adventist theology. It’s nothing more than cherry picking from the reformers conveniently to build support for Adventist views.

While being cognizant of the history of interpretation is important, none of this is to be the last word or a substitute for doing solid exegesis to interpret and apply the text for ourselves.




There isn’t. The interpretation of the messages to the seven churches is a perfect example of this. John clearly wrote messages, and indeed the entire book, to seven contemporary churches in 1st c. Asia Minor. What he meant in Chap. 2-3 is pretty clear from the text itself. Over time, this came to be interpreted as seven ages of church history. This is not something that can be obtained from the text itself. It was superimposed on it through the history of interpretation.

Thanks for your clarity.



Are you implying that Ellen White knew all truth perfectly and that there was no more refinement of truth to take place beyond her time? How would Ellen White answer this question?

“…in closely investigating every jot and tittle which we think is established truth, in comparing scripture with scripture, we may discover errors in our interpretation of Scripture.” (R&H July 12, 1898: Treasure Hidden, para 15)

Is it even possible that the IJ doctrine - as it has typically and officially conceptualised to date - may turn out to be one of the things that we discover was an error in our interpretation of scripture?


That is NOT true.

“MUST SHORTLY COME TO PASS” is indeed close to John’s day. We know this because it is in contrast to what Gabriel told Daniel, “… seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future” from Daniel’s day. Dan. 8:26

That contrast demonstrates that there is no such balderdash as God’s clock and man’s clock. If something is far in the future, God says it is far in the future. If something is near at hand, He says so.

Mark 1:14-15



You are either missing or ignoring the point - what I put there is an exegetical analysis of the Greek language with examples of other sinilar uses in Scriptures.

Where did you read in my quoted post any qualitative statement (even if implied) about EGW being a perfect source of truth or about the IJ doctrine? I was specifically commenting on Ford’s lack of consistency in his less than methodical ways for gathering support for his study.

You are partially correct in the first part of your statement but I noticed that in your list of advances since the reformers you don’t include additional divine light as one of them, this is a big miss and it is unfortunate because we (the SDA organization, you included hopefully) represent the only group that was willing to accept this new given light.
You list modern scholarship as one of the advances of truth and even cultural “advances”?, I find this last one quite impossible to understand - Can you tell us where modern culture has improved our understanding of biblical prophecy?
My comment to you is to remember that since the Reformation, it hasn’t always been all positive concerning the progression of biblical truth, I am quite confident you know all about the counter-Reformation and the deluge of mis-information that began with Alcazar and Ribera, just to name a couple.

Frank, just to be clear, are you saying that Revelation is not a prophetic book to reveal to the church future events?

This is a REALLY a new concept for me, I thought the book was “the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to Him”

This eisegesis helps them justify using 91% of their resources toward those “already Christian” in their mission work.


Divine light doesn’t operate totally independently of these endeavors, George. God just doesn’t usually dump insight into our laps. The work of exegesis and interpretation aren’t totally bypassed in the name of divine light. The advances in theological knowledge and scholarship are part of the ways that God brings such. It would be lunacy to think otherwise in any other field of knowledge, as if advances in health and medical knowledge come from God without research and study.

Even if one subscribes to the Adventist view of the bible and theology as the result of divine light, the bottom line is that the early Adventists were studying and trying to make sense of the Scriptures through that work. We now have better and more extensive resources and tools today than they or the reformers ever had. We need to listen to those who are conversant with those advances in the interpretation of the Scriptures.

You totally misunderstand what I meant, George. It’s biblical culture(s). The understanding of biblical cultures that we have today through archaeology and research, is far superior to that of the reformers, or the early Adventists. The advances in understanding about second temple Judaism, for example, have brought insight into the world of the NT, and have been bringing a shift in understanding of the gospel, covenants, justification, and related biblical issues. Such is the substance of the New Perspectives on Paul, which is now over forty years old…but is hardly even known within our denomination on the popular level.



Not in the sense that we construct timelines of the time of Jacob’s trouble, the Sunday laws, the time of trouble, etc. Honestly, I believe that we have eisegeted a whole lot into the book, George. I agree with James, it was about things that were shorty to come to pass. The events applied largely to the seven literal churches in 1st c. Asia Minor. The messages in the first two chapters help outline the content and message of the entire book, which was read in its entirety as a letter in their assemblies. It addressed the challenges to faith that they faced as God’s people in that time and place, and opened up a cosmic window to give them a view of their lived reality from the ultimate perspective of the worship of God and the Lamb, and of God’s victory over the powers that dominated their world.

It was a timely message to them, as biblical prophecy was usually intended to be. The better we can ascertain what that message meant to them, the better we can apply its principles to our time and lives today.

It was ultimately given to John to give to the churches. Again, God did not bypass John in the giving of the message…just like divine light does not generally bypass our efforts to interpret the Scriptures. John wrote out what he experienced in vision in the literary genre of apocalyptic, and used forms of rhetoric to make his case to the churches concerning what course of action he felt they should take in response to God and the Lamb.

IOW, John wasn’t God’s pen, he was his penman…where have I heard that before? He was an inspired writer, which means God was involved…but so was John in shaping and delivering the message to the churches.



Agreed, I accept your additional clarification, but you still should have added “divine inspiration” in your list of advances, that is what I meant to say, and it is this specific component (yes, EGW) that has made the most dramatic advances on divine light on prophecy since the Reformation.

Isn’t it interesting though that the one given such “divine inspiration” for “the pillar” of SDA doctrine was Mr. Edson walking through a cornfield and not EGW?


Hi George

I was replying to your suggestion that Dr Ford was being inconsistent. If you believe that not everything that Ellen White wrote was definitive truth, then Dr Ford was not being inconsistent as you claimed. Rather, Dr Ford was holding to that which has continued to be evidenced as truth while at the same time updating that which has since shown to have been (unintentional) error. No inconsistency at all.

Dr Ford is one of the most methodical seekers of truth that I know of.