The Agora
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Which viewpoint is right?

Which viewpoint is right?

It happens all the time. Two Bible-believing people have opposing viewpoints on a certain passage of Scripture. Both claim to have solid supporting evidence in terms of context, cross-references and consistency. Both make what they think are reasonable arguments for their interpretations. So how can it be determined which viewpoint is right? And does it matter?

Using elementary logic, there are four possibilities regarding accuracy. Either the first viewpoint is 100% right and the second is all wrong, or the second interpretation is 100% right and the first is all wrong, or both interpretations are partly right and partly wrong, or both are 100% wrong. But again, how can it be determined which possibility is the right one? And does it matter?

Based on probability, it is most likely that both viewpoints are partly right and partly wrong. With the exception of clear-cut fundamental Bible teaching -- sometimes called "first principles" -- no one has the full, complete, all-aspects-covered answer.

For example, a Bible student can be 100% accurate in interpreting the known evidence, but what about the unknown? Scripture is so richly significant and interwoven that discovery of another aspect or realization of another line of inquiry is just a matter of time. An avid Bible student will never stop learning... which means there is always something more to learn... which means that even the most diligent and knowledgeable student doesn't understand it all... which means that even 99% rightness still has 1% wrongness/incompleteness... which means that (with the exception of a true "first principle") no one should be unalterably dogmatic on a matter. To be so is mathematically insupportable, and presumptuous as well.

If we are spiritually growing as disciples of Christ, we are continually growing in knowledge and understanding. God's Truth invites investigation. So when encountering a different viewpoint, we should seize the opportunity at least to understand the evidence provided. We can always learn something, and if we're wise, we will adjust our own viewpoint accordingly.

So what has all this to do with Bible prophecy? Simple. There are many differing interpretations of prophetic Scripture. Which viewpoint is right? The measuring stick for soundness and rightness must be God's Word. It's that simple.

Now some readers may remember than many of the "other" viewpoints cited Bible verses as evidence. That's correct. Thus it becomes a matter of determining the relevance (does the text contain the same or similar words and ideas?), validity (does it really support the point being argued?), and clarity of the citation (is the reference self-explanatory, or does it, too, need interpretation?). It's also a question of ensuring that the interpretation is in harmony with undisputed fundamentals of Bible teaching. For example, if a prophetic viewpoint is inconsistent with or contradicts well-known Bible facts and doctrine, then it must be modified accordingly, or abandoned. So just because a viewpoint is argued by citing dozens of verses does not, in itself, make it Biblically sound. What counts is clear, relevant evidence, validly reasoned.

But who is to decide what is clear, etc? In the opening paragraph, the scenario was about two people claiming solid Bible evidence and sound reasoning. How are relevance, validity, and clarity evaluated? And how is one viewpoint determined to be more right than another? Well, there are rules of logic and argumentation and applicability that can serve as a measuring stick -- but the issue goes beyond academic accuracy. It's still necessary to ask, "Does it matter?"

Yes and no. It does matter if a person's misunderstanding will take him/her out of the way that leads to salvation. It doesn't matter if the viewpoint is simply differing detail such as timing and location and protagonists. For example, if one's viewpoint is that "all believers will be raptured to be with Christ, and so they will totally avoid the last days tribulation", that person might be shaken in faith upon finding him/herself having to endure the tribulation, as Scripture plainly teaches will be the experience of some believers (cf 1Pe 4:12,13; Luke 21:34-36; Rev 2:10; 6:9-11; 7:14; 11:3-8).

On the other hand, if one's viewpoint is that "the Gog of Ezekiel 38 will invade Israel before Christ returns, and/or the 'merchants of Tarshish' refer to the UK and the USA who step out to resist Gog", it seems unlikely that holding an alternative view of "an invasion after Christ's return, and/or the merchants are out to cooperate with Gog" jeopardizes one's salvation.

Suppose a person with a particular viewpoint is 100% right on an issue that could readily affect the salvation of a person with a different viewpoint. The matter doesn't stop here. If the #1 person is not patient, gentle and meek in trying to persuade #2 (cf 2Ti 2:24,25), but rather impatient, harsh and accusatory (manifested by strong words, condescension, indignation, separation, etc), the correctness of #1 counts for nothing. Wrong behavior more than cancels out right knowledge. If anyone has been blessed to have the right understanding of Scripture, especially the prophetic message, he/she has the responsibility to be forthright but caring toward those who do not yet share that understanding. Such patient, gentle teaching imitates the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus himself.

So which viewpoint is right? The one that lovingly and constantly witnesses for Christ and his Return.

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