Principles of Biblical Interpretation

William Miller (1782 - 1849)

In studying the Bible, I have found the following rules to be of great service to myself, and now give them to the public by special request. Every rule should be well studied, in connection with the scripture references, if the Bible student would be at all benefited by them.

1. All Scripture is necessary, and may be understood by diligent application and study (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

2. Every word must have it’s proper bearing on the subject presented in the Bible (Matthew 5:17, 18).

3. Scripture must be it’s own expositor [explainer], since it is a rule of itself. If I depend on a minister or teacher to explain it to me, and they should guess at it's meaning, or desire to have it so on account of their creed, or thought to be wise… then their guessing, desire, creed, or wisdom is my rule and not the Bible! (Psalm 19:7-11; 119:97-105; Matthew 23:8-10; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; Ezekiel 34:18, 19; Luke 11:52; Malachi 2:7, 8).

4. To understand doctrine, bring all the Scriptures together on the subject you wish to know; then let every word have it’s proper influence, and if you can form your theory without contradiction, you cannot be in error (Isaiah 28:7-29; 35:8; Proverbs 19:27; Luke 24:27, 44, 45; James 5:19; 2 Peter 1:19, 20).

5. Nothing revealed in Scripture can or will be hid from those who ask in faith, nothing wavering (Deuteronomy 29:29; Matthew 10:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 2:10; Philippians 3:15; Isaiah 45:11; Matthew 21:22; John 14:13, 14; 15:7; James 1:5, 6; 1 John 5:13-15).

6. God has revealed things to come, by visions, in figures and parables; and in this way the same things are often-times revealed again and again, by different visions, or in different figures and parables. If you wish to understand them, you must combine all in one (Psalms 89:19; Hosea 12:10; Habakkuk 2:2; Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 10:6; Hebrews 9:9, 24; Psalms 78:2; Matthew 13:13, 34; Genesis 41:1-32; Daniel 2:7, 8; Acts 10:9-16).

7. Visions are always mentioned as such (1 Corinthians 12:1).

8. How to know when a word is used figuratively. If it makes good sense as it stands, and does no violence to the simple laws of nature, then it must be understood literally; if not (then it must be understood) figuratively (Revelation 12:1,2; 17:3-7).

9. Figures always have a figurative meaning, and are used much in prophecy to represent future times, and events; such as mountains. meaning governments; beasts. meaning kingdoms; waters. meaning people; lamp. meaning Word of God; day. meaning year (Daniel 2:35, 44; 7:8, 17; Revelation 17:1, 15; Psalm 119:105; Ezekiel 4:6).

10. To learn the true meaning of figures, trace you figurative word through the Bible, and, where you find it explained, put it on your figure, and if it makes good sense, you need look no further; if not, look again.

11. Figures sometimes have two or more different significations; as day is used in a figurative sense to represent three different periods of time. 1. indefinite. 2. definite, a day for a year. 3. day for a thousand years (Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ezekiel 4:6; 2 Peter 3:8).

12. Parables are used as comparisons to illustrate subjects, and must be explained in the same way as figures, by the subject and Bible (Mark 4:13).

13. To know whether we have the true historical event for the fulfillment of a prophecy. if you find every word of the prophecy [after the figures are understood] is literally fulfilled, then you may know that your history is the true event. But, if one word lacks a fulfillment, then you must look for another event, or wait its future development. For God takes care that history and prophecy agrees, so that the true, believing children of God may never be ashamed (Psalm 21:5; Isaiah 14:17-19; 1 Peter 2:6; Revelation 17:17; Acts 3:18).

14. The most important rule of all is, that you must have faith. It must be a faith that requires a sacrifice, and, if tried, would give up the dearest object on earth, the world and all its desires, character, living, occupation, friends, home, comforts, and worldly honors. If any of these should hinder our believing any part of God's word, it would show our faith to be vain. Nor can we believe, so long as one of these motives lies lurking in our hearts. We must believe that God will never forfeit His word. And we can have confidence that He takes notice of the sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our head, will guard the translation of His own word, and throw a barrier around it, and prevent those who sincerely trust in God, and put implicit confidence in His word, from erring far from the truth, though they may not understand the Hebrew or Greek.