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Small Group Leader Guide

Step 1. Introduce the Session

5 minutes

As we journey deeper into the Word of God, how do we keep ourselves on the straight and narrow path of clarity without veering off into the wilderness of error? In this episode, we establish the rules of engagement—not only for studying prophecy—but for all of God’s Word.


  • Establish basic ground rules for interpreting biblical prophecy.

Step 2. Watch the Video

23 minutes

CONTENT SUMMARY (with timestamps)

  • Rule #1: The pure in heart shall see God (03:50)
  • Rule #2: Not all Bible versions are created equal (04:42)
  • Rule #3: Build your house on a firm foundation (06:00)
  • Rule #4: It all points to the Jewish Messiah (07:09)
  • Rule #5: Debate, not division (08:08)
  • Rule #6: You’re probably wrong (09:22)
  • Rule #7: Context is key (11:57)
  • Rule #8: In all your getting, get understanding (12:50)
  • Rule #9: Balance the literal with the figurative (14:40)
  • Rule #10: Biblical numbers can carry esoteric significance (17:38)

Step 3. Discuss

20 minutes

Leaders: You might like to split into smaller groups at this stage so everyone has a chance to respond honestly. Don't feel like you have to hurry through all these questions; they are simply conversation starters.

Q. What did you find most helpful or most challenging in the video?
Q. What is your motivation for studying the Bible?
Q. Have you ever disagreed with someone over an interpretation of the Word? How did you handle it?
Q. When teaching on the tension between literal and figurative interpretation, Matthew gave several examples of biblical metaphor including clay, bread, temple, lamb, bride, rock, light, salt, shepherd, vine and branches. From Scripture, can you think of other examples where symbolic metaphor is used? (If needed, examples below.)

  • "The Lord is my high ridge, my stronghold, my deliverer. My God is my rocky summit where I take shelter, my shield, the horn that saves me, and my refuge." (Psalm 18:2)
  • Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6)
  • "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1)
  • "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." (Revelation 5:5)
  • Other allegorical examples: Nicodemus and new birth (John 3:1-12), Samaritan woman and living water (John 4:1-15), my food is to do the will of my Father (John 4:31-33), eat my flesh and drink my blood (John 6:52-59)

Q. What are some modern, commonly-used examples of metaphor?

(Examples: "scapegoat," "house of cards," "know the ropes," "loose cannon," "smoking gun," "snake oil," "food for thought.")

Step 4. Report Out [OPTIONAL]

15 minutes

Leaders: If you're a team of leaders taking a class through the course and you broke into small groups in Step 3, regroup at the end and ask each small group to report out on their small group discussion. What were their ah-ha's? What did they struggle with?

Close with prayer.



Rules of Engagement: How to Interpret Bible Prophecy

(Genesis 9, Leviticus 18, Proverbs 17:8)

As we journey deeper into the Word of God, how do we keep ourselves on the straight and narrow path of clarity without veering off into the wilderness of error? In this episode, we establish the rules of engagement—not only for studying prophecy—but for all of God’s Word.


  • Establish basic ground rules for interpreting biblical prophecy.
  • Understand proper hermeneutical guidelines as a foundation for all Bible study.



A young boy dons a cowboy hat and approaches a house in a suburban neighborhood. He rings the doorbell. When the homeowner answers the door, the youth points a gun at the homeowner. Unphased, the homeowner smiles and gives the boy what he asked for. The boy leaves, walks to the next house, and the process repeats.

If you’re familiar with the quite fallen holiday of Halloween, you might recognize this boy is dressed as a cowboy, he’s brandishing a toy gun and he’s in the process of collecting candy through the ritual of trick-or-treating. For someone unfamiliar with the custom, they could arrive at a completely different explanation, maybe one involving gang activity and theft.

Proper context is important. Let’s consider that rather confusing passage in Genesis 9 where Ham sees Noah’s nakedness and boasts about it to his brothers. Without the ancient Jewish understanding of what it means to “see a man’s nakedness”, a modern-day hearer of the account might think, “Well, what’s the big deal? Noah got drunk, got naked and passed out in his tent. Ham made the mistake of walking in on that vision and, in poor taste, laughed about it to his brothers. Why would Noah get so upset and then curse Ham’s son, Canaan?”

Through right context, offered by other Old Testament witnesses, we can understand what actually happened in that tent. In Leviticus 18 (v7, 14, 16, others) and 20 (v11, 17), we’re told that the man that lies with his father’s wife uncovers his father’s nakedness. In 2 Samuel 16, Absalom usurps his father David and—as part of that hostile takeover attempt—Absalom publicly beds David’s concubines. This is essentially what Ham was attempting to do by bragging to his brothers. He had just violated their mother and was attempting to establish himself as head of the family. As a result of this transgression, Ham is demoted from his position as the second son to being considered the “younger” (Genesis 9:24.) In ancient times, birth order established position, authority and inheritance within the family, but this status was fluid and could be altered (as when Esau trades his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew in Genesis 25.)

This also explains why Canaan is the one who is cursed; he was the illegitimate son of Ham and Noah’s wife.

Context matters.


Early Church father, Augustine (354-430 AD), established some of the basic rules for engaging Scripture we still use today. Those guidelines help us frame our approach to studying the Word of God. Some of these are his and some are… not. Let’s begin.

Rule #1: The pure in heart shall see God

A Bible student’s starting point matters. How does your current worldview (biases, presuppositions) color the way you see God and His Word? An atheist who studies the Bible to disprove its validity starts from a completely different place than a devoted believer who studies the Bible to grow in their relationship with their Creator. A truth-seeking student of the Word is at an advantage if they already belong to the faith. What is your motivation for studying the Bible?

Additionally, the student should remain patient; understanding grows over time. I can tell you from personal experience, it can take years of study before a troublesome text becomes clear.

Rule #2: Not all Bible versions are created equal

You might guess this one isn’t Augustine’s. Unfortunately, this is a reality; your version of the Bible matters. When studying the Bible, you will want to compare versions. A good word-for-word translation like the King James (KJV) or New International (NIV) can bring a student close to the original Hebrew and Greek, but the old English of the King James can be hard to understand. Looser thought-for-thought translations like The Message (MSG) are more likely to lead to error and are not recommended for study or teaching.

To see this challenge in action, compare Proverbs 17:8 among the New Living Translation (NLT), English Standard (ESV) and King James. Do you get the same meaning across all versions? No, you don’t. These disparities must be reconciled if the student hopes to achieve clarity for a particular passage. Websites like or allow you to compare different versions easily.

These sites also offer tools like Strong’s Concordance which can be helpful for cross-referencing the original Hebrew and Greek words with their English equivalents. (Ah, textual analysis. Yummy!)

Rule #3: Build your house on a firm foundation

The Bible student’s task is to grasp the original meaning of the author; not to bring their own ideas to the text. Drawing meaning out of the text is known as exegesis; pushing our ideas into the text is called eisegesis. Try to stay inside the Bible (exegesis.) Error can enter when we take outside philosophy and mix it with Scripture. (That’s what the New Age and many cults do.)

One example of eisegesis might be when scholars try to pack millions of years into the Genesis 1 creation account, where the text seems to clearly point to six, 24-hour periods and one day of rest. Of course, these scholars do this to help align the biblical narrative with the modern-day theory of evolution. The Bible does not seem to support this from within, however, so the argument has to be pressed into the text (eisegesis) instead of being gleaned from it (exegesis).

Rule #4: It all points to the Jewish Messiah

Many of us have probably heard the adage, "The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed." Well, the Jewish Messiah is foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament, as early as Genesis 3. The 613 Mosaic laws are a holiness code that makes it clear we can't achieve lasting righteousness on our own. Israel's cycles of spiritual revival and subsequent adultery make it clear that—apart from God—humanity is broken and needs a Savior. The prophets of Israel declared the coming Messiah, the Son of Man, and even gave us the exact timeframe in which we could expect our King's arrival!

The Gospel of John reminds us Jesus is the Word made flesh; He is the revelation of God. Jesus said to Philip, "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father." (John 14:6-13) We know the will of our Father through the life of His Son.

Rule #5: Debate, not division

Understanding prophecy is not as important as knowing Jesus. It is our relationship with our Savior that will carry us through our trials; not our understanding of prophecy or the last days. We don’t have family feuds over prophecy and we certainly don’t cut off brothers and sisters-in-Christ who aren’t on the same prophetic page we are.

Regrettably, I've had opportunities to provide counsel on this. One woman approached an eschatology study group I'm in and asked for help. Seemed her husband had been sitting under the teachings of an internationally renowned preacher. That preacher had said if you didn't believe what he was teaching about the end times, your very salvation may be in question! She and her husband already held different positions on the end times, but now they were arguing about it and he was beginning to question the future of their marriage!

Listen: The only orthodox doctrine you have to agree to in your study of end times is the sure return of Jesus Christ. The rest of it—the timing, the details—the rest of it is up for debate.

This brings us to the next rule…

Rule #6: You’re probably wrong

Not Augustine’s. Specifically regarding last-days prophecy, there are many different theories on how the end will go down and they can all be wrong, but they can’t all be right! The chances of you having something wrong in your end-times calculations is high, and—though Mark 13:32 tells us no one knows the day or the hour—Jesus does warn us to recognize the season (v28-31). No date-setting!

I remember when I first started learning about end times prophecy. I was excited. All I ever knew from the last days up to that point had been served to me by Hollywood. So, you know.. very scary, everybody dies, and probably a zombie apocalypse.

As I began wrestling with the Word, I began to get a picture of the Tribulation, this end times period of judgment. I learned about this thing called the Rapture, and there were these beasts, and a big bad called “antichrist”, and a New World Order and a final White Throne Judgment. Very vibrant, very vivid imagery. And all the folks I listened to seemed to agree—at least they did at first. But as my questions became more specific, I began to discover people didn’t agree. Then I began to discover there were completely different schools of thought around major prophetic passages in the Bible! I realized some of what I had believed early on couldn’t be true; it didn’t mesh with other scriptures that were supposedly talking about the same end of the world. That brought up more questions and more study and more questions and more study… and, well, here we are today.

Rule #7: Context is key

The Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth; let Him. Pray for wisdom. (James 1:5) That said, the Holy Spirit is not a substitute for the necessary learning to understand Scripture. Augustine felt the student should study Hebrew, Greek, geography, history and other subjects to deepen their understanding of the Word.

A verse should be studied within the context of the surrounding passages; never alone. The student must also consult the orthodox creed; what did the early Church understand? If the meaning of a text is unclear, nothing in the passage can be made a matter of orthodox faith. (Unfortunately, churches do this anyways, but they do it because they break Rule #8.)

Rule #8: In all your getting, get understanding

Augustine taught the obscure passage must yield to the clear passage. Seems sound, but this can be tricky! When separated from 1st century Jewish understanding, a modern Gentile reader can claim clarity over something they grossly misunderstand.

Take, for example, this reference in Matthew 24 where Jesus warns about an “abomination of desolation” and Matthew adds a note saying, “(let the reader understand).” Frustrating! There has been many a pastor who has taught the “abomination of desolation” mentioned here is going to be an unholy sacrifice made to an idol in a future third Jewish temple. They usually base this theory on mixing the end of Daniel’s 70-week prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) with the defiling of Solomon’s temple detailed in 2 Maccabees 6, when idols and sacrifices to Zeus were raised under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes.

But, Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience. They would have known the Law and the prophets and their own history. They would (or, as Matthew points out, they should) have understood the term “abomination of desolation”. Thank goodness, Dr. Luke—writing to a Gentile audience—makes this clear to us in his gospel. In Luke 21:20, he just says, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, desolation is near.” Oh! Got it. Thank you.

Rule #9: Balance the literal with the figurative

Absolutely, the literal and historical meaning of Scripture should be highly esteemed. However, Scripture may carry more than one meaning, and allegorical, symbolic interpretation is often valid.

Isaiah 64:8 declares we are the clay, God is the potter. Wait. Are we really clay? (I mean, there is a reality to the whole “from dust to dust” thing, but…)

Another example: When Jesus says He is the Bread of Life, is He really saying He’s a loaf of bread? (John 6:35)

When Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” was He talking about the literal temple?

Lamb of God; bride of Christ; the Lord is my rock; light of the world; salt of the earth; good shepherd; I am the vine you are the branches (John 15:5).

If we don’t understand the importance of allegory, metaphor and poetic language in Scripture, by the time we get to Revelation we could literally be talking about monstrous sea beasts and mutant, seven-eyed sheep!

People with international platforms attempt to pit literal interpretations against figurative interpretations and sometimes do amazing damage to the text—and the flock—in the process. Both sides of this literary spectrum can be taken too far. Balance and discernment is required.

While we’re at it, also keep your eyes open for patterns, types and recapitulation, but hold your understanding loosely until the pieces fit.

A type would be a symbol that foreshadows a future event. We have an example in Hebrews 9 where Paul explains the purpose of the sacrificial temple rites were to point the way toward the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah.

Recapitulation is simply retelling. One example of recapitulation would be the creation account; Genesis 1 briefly describes the six days of creation, but then Genesis 2 starts back at the beginning and adds additional color.

A second example of recapitulation: Joshua’s death and burial at the end of the book of Joshua is told again (recapitulated) in Judges 2:6-9. It doesn’t mean he rose from the dead and died a second time.

Finally, the four Gospels (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) recapitulate many accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. They do not chronologically build upon one another, but each gospel overlays the others to add depth to our understanding of Jesus of Nazareth.

Rule #10: Biblical numbers can carry esoteric significance

Have you ever had that nagging feeling you’ve had an important dream—and maybe you even remember the details—but you just couldn’t put the pieces together?

To understand prophecy, we’re going to have to recognize the importance of numbers in the dreams, visions and prophetic downloads we find in the Bible.

Consider how God used Joseph for interpreting prophetic dreams. In Genesis 40, we see Joseph interpreting dreams for the royal cupbearer and baker. Three branches and three baskets both indicate three days here, yet by the time we get to Pharaoh’s dreams in chapter 41, seven cows and seven stalks represent years; not days, weeks or decades. Why the difference? Don’t know! But we do know the royal magicians (representing human effort) couldn’t even figure out Pharaoh’s dreams! Just as Joseph said, interpretations belong to God. We will only get so far in our human reasoning. We must rely on the Spirit of God to open our understanding. Just because we have eyes, it doesn’t mean we see.

A word of caution: There is a fine line between recognizing the presence of biblical numerology and crossing over into divination. Just like literal and figurative interpretation, you can take numbers too far so tread carefully here.

That said, here are some of the more popular numbers we find in the Bible:

40; 40 years is a biblical generation, as established by Israel’s time in the wilderness (Numbers 14:34). 40 is often a time of trial: 40 days of rain during Noah’s flood, Moses had his 40 days on Sinai, Jonah warned Nineveh for 40 days, Ezekiel slept on his right side for 40 days, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, and He walked the earth for 40 days after His resurrection.

12; spiritual authority. 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament, 12 apostles in the New Testament (which combined, may represent the 24 elders seen in Revelation.) 12 is prominent in the description of the perfected spiritual Jerusalem (12 gates, 12 angels, 12 foundations, 12 apostles, 12,000 furlongs, etc; Revelation 21.)

7; perfection. Seven days of creation. Naaman was told to dip seven times in the Jordan. Revelation speaks of seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls (vials) of judgment poured out upon the earth. In Revelation 5:6, Jesus is portrayed as the Lamb of God “with seven horns (perfect omnipotence) and seven eyes (perfect omniscience,) which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.” (What perfect Spirit of God was sent forth into all the earth? Holy Spirit.)

6; humanity, carnality, and corruption. Man was created on the sixth day, six days of work. The number six is prominent in the descriptions of Goliath and the corrupt King Nebuchadnezzar. Six fingers and six toes may have been a Nephilim (giant) trait (2 Samuel 21:20). And of course, 666 is the mark of the beast in Revelation 13:18.


Well, you made it. Congratulations. For some of you, this may have been your very first hermeneutics class. Hermeneutics is the careful approach to rightly dividing the Word of God; it’s how we wrestle with the Word. Now, come on; be honest. Some of you—had I opened with the word “hermeneutics”—you might have skipped to the next lesson. Or, maybe that’s just me. As we continue throughout the Prophecy Course, we will try our best to stay within the guidelines we’ve established in this lesson.



Ashcraft, Jack. April 15, 2021. What is the Significance of Biblical Numerology. Retrieved from

Bradley, Jamin. December 13, 2019. Interpreting Joseph’s Dreams. Retrieved from

Hartill, J. Edwin. Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics. Solid Christian Books. 2015. 154 pages.

Literary Devices. A Huge List of Short Metaphor Examples. Retrieved from

Literary Devices. Famous Metaphors in the Bible. Retrieved from

Morrison, Michael. The Bible: Literal and Figurative. Grace Communion International. Retrieved from

Virkler, Henry. Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation. Baker Academic. 2007. 256 pages.