2 Peter 1:19-21
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It is from verse 20 in particular that we derive the principle that the Bible interprets itself. This means that somewhere within the pages of Scripture, the timing, the location, the characters, and the symbols employed in symbolic texts like parables and prophecies are explained or defined. It is our job to search them out.
When we add the following three vital verses to our understanding of this principle, however, we end up with a very significant corollary:
» For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. (Malachi 3:6)
» Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
» Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)
Each of these verses proclaims God as constant, consistent, unchanging. It is this quality of God—that He is faithful to what He is—that allows us to trust Him. We can have confidence in God and His Word because He never changes! Could we rely upon a double-minded God (see James 1:6-8)? Could we have faith in a Being who constantly blew hot and cold? Never! With our God, though, we need not fear inconsistency.
Thus, if God is constant and His Word interprets itself, the corollary principle is that the Bible's interpretation of its symbols is consistent. This must be true! If the Bible gave us two contradictory interpretations of a symbol, how could we ever feel confident that we understood its meaning? This corollary underscores II Peter 1:19, where the apostle informs us that "the prophetic word [is] more sure" than even eyewitness accounts! We can have confidence in our understanding of the prophecies and parables if the symbols we interpret match what we understand in other areas of Scripture. Otherwise, we could never be sure!
This means that every symbol from Genesis to Revelation is consistent in its interpretation. If a rose means something in one part of the Bible, it will mean the same elsewhere, though the context may modify it slightly. If God is consistent, His Word—His revelation of Himself to us—must also therefore be consistent.
This conclusion may raise some questions. How can that be? How can, for instance, a lion represent Satan in I Peter 5:8 and Jesus Christ in Revelation 5:5? Is that not contradictory? Not at all! Our understanding is correct, but the meaning we give to the symbol is wrong. We have defined it too narrowly.
A study of the symbol of the lion brings out several characteristics the Bible emphasizes: It represents strength, predatory ferocity, majesty, and leadership. The lion is the symbol of a ruler, a king, and often a very fierce and powerful one. These are the general meanings of the symbol based on a lion's traits. They help us to comprehend what God wants us to focus on in the context. Thus, a lion can represent both Satan and Jesus because they both have a lion's characteristics.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables and Prophecy