Understanding Biblical Prophecy PART 4—How To Interpret Biblical Prophecies.

The interpreter must pay attention to the following guidelines:

• Understand the historical background of the prophet and his message. Prophecies usually make sense when read in their historical-cultural setting.

• Pay attention to the symbols used in the prophecy i.e. the geographical locations mentioned, the animals, plants etc.

For example, Joel 2:3 says, “A fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns; the land is LIKE the GARDEN OF EDEN before them, and behind them a DESOLATE WILDERNESS; surely nothing shall escape them.

The Garden of Eden is used here as an imagery of a pleasant place. That imagery is borrowed from Genesis 2:15, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”

Sometimes (as in this case), you would find the imageries used in other parts of the Bible (which helps foster easy understanding). However, this is not always the case. Other times, you would need to research to ascertain the meaning of imageries used.

• Note that two types of prophecies exist, didactic and predictive.

A didactic prophecy is simply to teach or correct God’s people. It does not speak of the future.

A predictive prophecy, on the other hand, has an element of the future in it (prophecy plus the word of wisdom), these kinds of prophecies are a product of utterance gifts and revelation gifts working together.

The interpreter must determine whether the prophecy being studied is didactic or predictive.

• If the prophecy being studied is predictive? Ask: Has this been fulfilled ALREADY? If a New Testament author says a particular prophecy has been fulfilled, that settles the matter (see Matt 1:22-23, 4:12-17, 13:34-35).

The interpreter should therefore find out how prophecies were used and explained in the New Testament.

• Search to see if the subject of the prophecy is discussed elsewhere in the Scriptures. If it is, then you must compare the other places where it was discussed.

• Read the prophecy in context. Reading the entire book (where the prophecy was mentioned) might help to grasp who the prophecy is referring to.

Do not cherry pick prophecies out of their contexts and apply them to yourself.

• Pay attention to the symbol and metaphors used in the prophecy. Do not take figures of speech literally.

• The prophets do not usually arrange events chronologically (like is commonly done today). They often arranged events by subject, rather than time sequence.

The interpreter must note this as he seeks to understand what they wrote.

• Some prophecies have a dual application—one at the time they were made and another in the future (the gap principle). Note this dual applications, if they exist.

• Predictive prophecies are usually conditional, not absolute. Things are said to happen BASED ON some form of cooperation from men.

Take Jeremiah 18 for example, “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, IF that nation against whom I have spoken TURNS FROM ITS EVIL, I will RELENT of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it” (vv. 7-8).

Observe that the nation will not be destroyed IF it turns or repents from its evil. Thus, the nation’s destruction is not “set in stone.” It is dependent on some action on its part. Such is the nature of predictive prophecy.

Following these simple rules will help you interpret Biblical prophecies accurately.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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