What Happens when you get the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text?

Interpreting the Bible is not always easy. Peter admits that there are “some things hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16; also Heb. 5:11). Sticking with the actual text is a No. 1 priority. An interpreter can’t go beyond what’s actually in the text.

For example, I was following comments about the meaning of Genesis 6:3 in which the following is found: “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless, his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

Some interpret the 120 years to refer to the upper limit of the lifespan of humans, while others argue that it refers to the number of years God would abate His wrath in light of man’s sinfulness at that time before the flood.

Some comments claimed that the 120 years should be multiplied by the number 50, the number of years in a biblical generation and the Jubilee number, thus, totaling 6000 years. From this added element, the commenter went on to add even more to what is not in the text by claiming that we are about to enter the seventh millennium, specifically, the thousand years of Revelation 20:4: from creation to the birth of Jesus there were 4000 years, and from the time of the birth of Jesus until the year 2001 (or earlier if Jesus was born around 5 BC) 2000 years. You can see a problem: This would put us at least 17 years in the thousand years of Revelation 20:4.

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The biggest problem, however, is that there is nothing in the text about multiplying 120 by 50 years and then extrapolating to claim that it’s all about events in the distant future from Noah’s day. Bruce K. Waltke offers a contextual interpretation:

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a hundred and twenty years. This is probably the span of time between this proclamation and the flood (see 5:32; 7:6), rather than the years of an individual’s lifespan. God’s judgment is seasoned by grace (cf. 1 Peter 3:20). The 120-year delay allows time for people to repent and provides testimony of the coming judgment through Noah and the huge ark.1

Here’s one I ran across in my study of Bible prophecy as it relates to the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in AD 70. Consider Acts 2:16. “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel,” a reference to the events of that day. To get around this clear statement, Thomas Ice adds the word “like” to the passage: “But this is [like] that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.”2 The word “like” is not found in the passage.

Many more examples could be given. But there is another way to misinterpret the Bible. Trying to prove a doctrine from a text when the text is not about that doctrine even though the doctrine may be true and proved from other passages.

The following is a recent example:

Conservative Christian brothers and activists Jason and David Benham believe that the verses on the “great harlot” in the book of Revelation can be linked to the sexual perversion sweeping society today.

“This year, given the current sociopolitical context of the sexual revolution, the ‘great harlot’ in Revelation 17 jumped off the pages at us,” they wrote earlier this week on WND.com.

The Bentham brothers are correct that “sexual perversion” is taking place in our country, but is Revelation 17:1-2 dealing with today’s “sexual perversion,” or is “sexual perversion” being appropriated to describe political collusion between the “great harlot” and the “scarlet beast” (v. 3) upon whom the woman sits?

The issue of sexual perversion can be found in passages like Romans 1:18-22; 1 Cor. 5:1-2; 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-11 and can be used to describe what’s taking place in our day.

Revelation 17-18 is using sexual symbols and language to describe how first-century Jerusalem colluded with Rome against the church…


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