“How to Interpret Bible Prophecy” (Part 3): New Testament Interpretation

Bible Interpretation

We live in a subjective culture. We apply things to ourselves as individuals and our own situation. This is true of songs, poems, stories – any form of literary expression. Our natural tendency is to interpret something our own way before objectively discerning what the author meant.

But nobody knows what something means better than the person who wrote it. Whether it’s a song, poem, or story, only the author can tell you what it actually means. The author is the only person who can give you a reliable interpretation.

This is also true of the Bible. A principle of biblical interpretation goes like this: “Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture.” In other words, the Bible shows us how to interpret it because it often interprets itself.

This is especially true when it comes to prophecy. Many overlook how the Bible interprets its own prophecies. They interpret them incorrectly, look for fulfillment in the wrong places, and apply them in ways the Holy Spirit never intended.

This is tragic, for we must remember He is the ultimate Author of Bible prophecy. Peter explains, “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

The Holy Spirit inspired the Old Testament prophets to make predictions. He also inspired the authors of the New Testament to record their fulfillment. So when the New Testament declares a prophecy fulfilled, it interprets Old Testament prophecy for us.

We simply must interpret prophecy how the Bible itself interprets prophecy. Otherwise, we disregard how the Holy Spirit declares His own prophecies to be fulfilled!

This can be surprising. The New Testament doesn’t always apply Old Testament prophecy the way we expect. Many today insist on a “literal” interpretation. Yet the Bible often interprets its prophecies in symbolic, spiritual, or figurative ways. We must submit our interpretation to that of the author – the Holy Spirit.

Example: Restoration of Israel

Hosea predicts the destruction and exile of Israel. But he also predicts the Israelites will be God’s people once more. He promises, “In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God’” (Hosea 1:10).

He also promises, “I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people.’” (Hosea 2:23) In context, Hosea is speaking about Israelites from the northern kingdom. Prophecies like these are used by some to argue for the restoration of an earthly, Jewish nation.

But the Holy Spirit gives us the true interpretation through the apostle Paul. Paul asks, “What if God did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy…even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea…” (Romans 9:23-25). He then quotes Hosea 2:23 and 1:10.

Hosea promises God will restore Israel. Paul says He fulfills this promise by including Gentiles among His people. When you consider Israel’s exile, this makes sense. The Israelites were scattered among the nations. They became as good as Gentiles to God. By saving Gentiles, He is prophetically restoring the nation of Israel.

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(In case you missed it, check out Part One and Part Two of this series!)

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