William Miller’s Rules of Interpretation
These are not presented as though they were my rules but as an example to show that we should have an understanding that there are rules, that we should make an effort to understand and follow careful procedures in our study of God’s Word. Refer to the article Interpreting Scripture for a discussion of this. Here is William Miller’s list of rules:
I. Every word must have its proper bearing on the subject presented in the Bible. Proof; Matt. 5.18. [see also Rev. 22:18, 19. Matt. 4:4. Deut. 4:2. Prov. 30:5, 6. Rom. 15:4. I Cor. 10:11, 12].
II. All Scripture is necessary, and may be understood by a diligent application and study. Proof; 2 Tim. 3:15-17. [see also Heb. 11:6. Jer. 29:10-14; 33:3. Isa. 55:6, 7].
III. Nothing revealed in Scripture can or will be hid from those who ask in faith, not wavering. Proof; Deut. 29:29. Matt. 10:26, 27. 1 Cor. 2:10. Phil. 3:15. Isa. 45:11. Matt. 21:22. John 14:13, 14; 15:7. James 1:5, 6. 1 John 5:13-15.
IV. To understand doctrine, bring all the Scriptures together on the subject you wish to know; then let every word have its proper influence; and if you can form you theory without a contradiction, you cannot be in error. Proof; Isa. 28:7-29; 35:8. Prov. 19:27. Luke 24:27, 44, 45. Rom. 16:26. Jms. 5:19. 2 Pet. 1:19, 20. [see also John 7:16, 17].
V. Scripture must be its own expositor, since it is a rule of itself. If I depend on a teacher to expound to me, and he should guess at its meaning, or desire to have it so on account of his sectarian creed, or to be thought wise, then his guessing, desire, creed or wisdom, is my rule, and not the Bible. Proof; Ps. 19:7-11; 119:97-105. Mat. 23:8-10. 1 Cor. 2:12-16. Ezk. 34:18, 19. Luke 11:52. Matt. 2:7, 8. [see also Jer. 17:5-7. I Jn. 4:1; Jn. 7:24. I Thess. 5:19-21; II Thess. 2:1-13. Mt. 24:4,5, 23,24. Isa. 8:20].
VI. God has revealed things to come, by visions, in figures and parables; and in this way the same things are oftentimes revealed again and again, by different visions, or in different figures and parables. If you wish to understand them, you must combine them all in one. Proof; Ps. 89:19. Hos. 12:10. Hab. 2:2. Acts 2:17. 1 Cor. 10:6. Heb. 9:9, 24. Ps. 68:2. Matt. 13:13, 34. Gen. 41:1-32. Dan. 2, 7 and 8. Acts 10:9-16.
VII. Visions are always mentioned as such. 2 Cor. 12:1.
VIII. Figures always have a figurative meaning, and are used much in prophecy to represent future things, times and events,– such as mountains, meaning governments, an. 2:35, 44; beasts, meaning kingdoms, Dan. 7:8, 17; waters, meaning people, Rev. 17:1, 15; day, meaning year, etc., Ezk. 4:6. [see also Num. 14:34].
IX. 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.
X. Figures sometimes have two or more different significations, as day is used in a figurative sense to represent three different periods of time, namely, first, indefinite, Eccles. 7:14; second, definite, a day for a year, Ezk. 4:6, and third a day for a thousand years, I Pet. 3:8.
The right construction will harmonize with the Bible, and make good sense; other constructions will not.
XI. If a word makes good sense as it stands, and does no violence to the simple laws of nature, it is to be understood literally; if not, figuratively. Rev. 12:1, 2; 17:3-7.
XII. To learn the meaning of a figure, trace the word through your Bible, and when you find it explained, substitute the explanation for the word used; and, if it makes good sense, you need not look further; if not, look again.
XIII. 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 shall agree, so that the true believing children of God may never be ashamed. Ps. 22:5. Isa. 45:17-19. I Pet. 2:6. Rev. 17:17. Acts 3:18.
XIV. 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, family, home, comfort, and worldly honors. If any of them should hinder our believing any part of God’s word, it would show our faith to be vain. Nor can we ever believe so long as any 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 who takes notice of the sparrow’s fall, 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 Hebrew or Greek. [Heb.11:6. Rom.14:23. Jms.2:26. Jn.7:16,17. Mt.7:21].
From: History of the Second Advent Message and Mission, Doctrine and People
by Isaac C. Wellcome, Yarmouth, ME.: 1874. pp.44-46