Four Steps for Figuring Out Prophecy

The Bahá’í Faith emphasizes the harmony of science and religion and therefore, by implication and application, encourages scriptural interpretation that aligns with reason and scientific understanding. When it comes to interpreting scriptural texts, one possible approach is to consider them from three levels: (1) historical-contemporary, (2) history of interpretation, and (3) Bahá’í-focused interpretation. For example, The parable of the city in the Qur’án offers an example where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Bahá’u’lláh provide different, yet complementary interpretations of the same passage. The study of religion presents useful insights into the nature of prophecy. As proposed in this presentation, one Bahá’í-inspired approach to interpreting scriptural texts involves a four-step method that asks questions to determine if the text is literal or figurative, symbolic, and spiritual or social in nature. This is an experimental approach to interpreting these texts and not an authoritative analysis.

This presentation offers a method to interpret biblical prophecy by looking at the words used in the scripture, the context in which it was written, and the cultural and historical background of the time. Two useful examples are Peter’s sermon at Pentecost from Acts 2 and Bahá’u’lláh’s commentary on Revelation 1:14–16; 2:18; 19:12, 15 to show how prophecy can be understood as spiritual and symbolic, rather than literal. This presentation proposes that if a prophecy is impossible to fulfill literally, it should be understood as figurative and symbolic and that the figurative language used in scripture can help in better understanding and appreciating the spiritual message of a scriptural passage in the form of a prophecy.

To read a series of essays written about this topic, go here:

Presentation PDF: Four_Steps_for_Figuring_Out_Prophecy