Revelation: Our Options for Interpretation

Such exegesis doesn’t matter. You’re like a man who can say “square”, but because he later wants to say “circle”, he manufactures a convoluted definition so as to perform his verbal sleigh of hand in due time.

“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


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What you say here makes me shudder. I have often brought this up in discussion in Sabbath School or other SDA meetings. I state that with the death of EGW the SDA Church acts as though there has been no new light or any further word from God to the church. To my mind that just cannot be. EGW has been dead over 100 yrs. and in that time you mean to tell me God has not said another single word! They look at me as though I have 3 heads. Just incredible. SMH.


Hello 2nd Opinion:

Thanks for your response. You sound reluctant to accept my suggestion that the bible means what the author means and no more. You write, “I am somewhat skeptical about our ability to determine with any precision authorial intent.” Since I understand your concern, I will share with you how I attempt to determine authorial intent and reduce my own skepticism. Hopefully you will find this helpful. I’ll start with a few general statements and then make some specific comments regarding the book of Revelation per your request.

First, every verse, passage, chapter and book in the bible requires a two-step process: a) the proper interpretation, and b) the proper application – always in this order. I’m not aware of any correct application based on the wrong interpretation. I am aware, however, of many cases where the wrong application came from the wrong interpretation.

Second, I believe the author’s words take precedence over all others. Every author in the bible is inspired and by definition they say what they mean. Certain commentators, historians, theologians, translators and interpreters can be helpful, at times, but they are also a great source of skepticism. We should always choose inspired authors over uninspired commentators.

Third, I’m a strong proponent of Occam’s razor: the simplest answer is usually the best. This is foundational to my hermeneutics. This also means the validity of an answer is inversely proportional to its complexity. It always raises a red flag with me when I hear people describe a supposed biblical teaching in a very complex manner. I get leery of interpretations that include people, rulers, dates, geography, places, churches, laws, multiple fulfillments and principles not found in scripture – all red flags.

In regards to Revelation, my threshold for determining the author’s intent is rather low. This helps to reduce my skepticism. I also don’t believe that we, those of us living today, should consider ourselves as important as John’s original audience. This reduces our “need to know” and helps to further reduce skepticism.

Concerning the text itself, let’s begin here: “John to the seven churches which are in Asia…” v.4. Understanding this verse in the broader context, it’s reasonable to conclude the following:

a) John is the author (John who? is a different discussion)

b) He is writing to seven churches comprised of real people living in real locations (see chapters 2 & 3).

c) Real churches with real people in real locations never represent periods of time. John does not give his readers that option for interpreting these churches in that manner.

d) You and I are not, and never have been, members of these churches. Revelation is therefore written for us not to us. It helps to keep this perspective in mind when reading this book, which also applies to the entire bible.

Based on all of the above, I believe we can determine “authorial intent” as follows:

a) John intended, as all biblical authors do, to write a relevant message to his original audience.

b) John intended his audience to receive a blessing from what he wrote, “Blessed is he that reads and they that hear the words of this prophecy” 1:3

c) John intended to obeyed the instructions given to him, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book” 22:10

d) John intended for his audience to understand what he wrote. The words “do not seal” mean just that.

e) John intended to address serious problems his audience was having and will be facing shortly. Their problems are not our problems, no matter how universal seem to be.

f) John intended his book to accomplish its purpose. It did. It gave hope and encouragement to those to whom it was written.

g) John intended to make his message further relevant to his audience by placing time constraints on it. This clarifies its urgency. His time constraints are real and not subjective, symbolic or open ended.

h) John intended to open and close his message using these time constraints:

Rev 1:1 … show his servants things which must shortly come to pass

Rev 1:3 … the time is at hand.

Rev 22:10 … the time is at hand.

i) John intended for his time constraints to have only one meaning – his and his alone. (Side note: Translators use equivalent words to covey equivalent meaning. They never use opposite words to convey opposite meaning; “shortly” and “at hand” mean the same thing in Greek as they do in English. They don’t mean two thousand years in the future.)

j) John intended his audience to know what happens between his opening and closing time statements. They are bookends to his message. Since he is addressing real-time problems we must understand these problems in order to understand his message. I’ll leave it here for now.

In summary, I’ve suggested a method for approaching all scripture with Revelation being no different. In order to understand this book we must look at it from the author/audience perspective and place the same time constraints on it that John does. This will prevent us from applying his message incorrectly. I think the chances of us ending up at the right place are much better if we begin at the right place. I suggest starting here: it means what John means. Authorial intent is much easier to determine if you keep this in mind and, as an added benefit, it helps to reduce our skepticism. Thanks, RT


Rogue: As I read these statements, I wonder a) which New Testament Bible version/translation have you chosen, and b) if you are fluent in Koine Greek?

GOD has not said a single word to EGW to begin with.


Did I miss it or you really did not use a single verse from Hebrews?

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Sorry about the tardiness of my reply.
I think you are right, I didn’t use Hebrews. I could have though as the NC is explained there.
I don’t think I said anything that would contradict anything written in Hebrews.

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I prefer another approach–meaning is not fixed, but changes over time, and from different perspectives. In 1967, Roland Barthes wrote “The Death of the Author” in which he noted how this event how it impacts interpretation. While an author is living, she has control over the meaning of her text. But after her death, that control is lost and taken up by others, in particular, by various readers.

The meaning, intended or implied, by the author is merely the first stage of meant effects. For the Book of Revelation, we may have some access to “the mind of the author”–certainly his imagination, and possibly his intentions–but these are quickly necessarily transcended by several new facts: 1) the author is dead, 2) the original audiences are now dead, 3) 2,000 years has transpired.

Doesn’t this new situation require a different account of the meaning of the text?


There is irony there.

Knight has sought to honestly and fairly review the controversial charges and countercharges the book generated between leading Adventist QOD contributors and those who took strong exception to their "answers" (especially on the atonement and the humanity of Christ).


The traditional critics of QOD will be gratified to know that Knight has pulled no punches, especially when it comes to exposing the way L. E. Froom and his colleagues were “less than transparent” about the denomination’s long-held (since the 1890s) consensus on the “post-Fall” humanity of Christ.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that Knight also suggests that Froom and his colleagues gave a false impression as they developed the notorious “Appendix B,” entitled “Christ’s Nature During the Incarnation,” which consists of Ellen White statements.

Knight claims that the controversial heading, which says Christ “Took Sinless Human Nature,” was “problematic in that it implied that this was Ellen White’s idea when in fact she was quite emphatic in repeatedly stating that Christ took ‘our sinful nature’ and that ‘He took upon Himself fallen, suffering human nature, degraded and defiled by sin.’”

Many of us have experienced Adventism’s genetic trait of being, to put it gently, “less than transparent” on multiple issues over multiple decades.

If the church made “huge investments in Biblical and theological scholarship,” I can’t help wondering what motives drove the brethren to be “less than transparent,” as SDA historian George Knight put it, regarding material facts.

Surely, I would think, it was something less noble than serving the health of the Body of Christ.

If hagiography is an unstable foundation on which to build our house, surely dishonesty is shifting sand that will not, cannot, weather the Storm.

Revelation: Our Options for Interpreting

Why not start with honesty?

Perhaps it is yet not too late

Apokalypsis is the opposite of secrecy.

In Revelation, we are brought face to face with heaven’s policy of candor and a government that throws itself open to scrutiny.


In this conception of government, there is participation on the part of intelligent beings, from the four living beings “in the middle of the throne” (4:6) to the redeemed who come alive to “reign with Christ for a thousand years” (20:4).

A government of God and a government of “We the People” need not be as far apart as many think. J. M. Roberts says that the “democratic theory that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed…was epoch-making.”

It surely was. Alexander Hamilton wondered in Federalist No. 1 “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

Abraham Lincoln waxed wistful that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The report-card for such a government in this world does not look great.

Secrecy is one of the factors that dooms it.

Consent on the part of the governed is fatally compromised by secrecy — and its demise is assured even if “the people” were to approve it.

Contrast this to the politics of heaven, and the prospect that a government “under God” will be a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” brightens greatly.

This is one more thing to take away from Daniel and Revelation, the two most political and world-aware books in the Bible.

Apokalypsis is the opposite of secrecy.

Sigve K. Tonstad is Research Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Loma Linda University.


This is going to be a problem for a denomination whose identity and claim to uniqueness has (in the wake of the traditional SDA doctrine of the Cleansing of the Heavenly Sanctuary and Investigative Judgment, etc), come to be essentially based upon being doctrinally distinct and ‘correct’. When your identity is based on being ‘right’, it is virtually impossible to back down as this would be (mis)perceived as threatening that identity.


Precisely…no way to back that down!


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