The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures

Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing (Strong's: dissecting correctly)
the Word of Truth.
- 2 Timothy 2:15


In many places in the Scriptures, the believer is encouraged to study the written Word as the foundation for a holy, godly and fruitful life before God and man. But how are we to study this unified, but daunting, compilation of sixty-six books written by over forty authors between nineteen hundred and thirty-five hundred years ago in languages and cultures that may be totally foreign to us? Enter the science of hermeneutics.

To understand hermeneutical principles is to be equipped for an intelligent study of the Word of God, tending greatly to our approval before God as workmen that do not need to be ashamed.

Thus far in this series we've been treated to much sound instruction by Dr. David L. Cooper, founder of the Biblical Research Society, in interpreting Scripture, a critical skill to master, particularly in an age in which the Babel of interpretations is legion. With "Rules of Interpretation," a study that will span perhaps seventeen Shofars, let us continue to hone our skills in rightly dividing the Word of Truth that we might be clear and accurate voices for the Lord. To read or review prior studies, please see links in our Library. Let us now apply ourselves. - ed.


Dr. David L. Cooper

Part Three: Rules of Interpretation Proper

"The knowledge of certain rules of interpretation and the observance of these rules when studying the Scriptures is very important and helpful in arriving at a clear understanding of God's Word."

Rule 6: The LAW OF recurrence

The Law of Recurrence involves the recording of an event and the repetition of the account which gives added details. This principle may be illustrated by the artist who "blocks out the portrait" of a person at the first sitting and adds detail at subsequent sittings.

Study the following passages and determine where Isaiah and Ezekiel employed the Law of Recurrence:
1. Isaiah 11:1-10; 11:11-12:6
2. Ezekiel 38:1-39:16
3. Matthew chapters 24 and 25


CLOSELY ASSOCIATED with the law of double reference, the double or manifold fulfillment of prophecy, is the law of recurrence. In many passages of Scripture where we have the law of double reference, we likewise find an application of the law of recurrence. To many of those who are not familiar with this principle, especially characteristic of the prophetic word, many passages of Scripture are just a jumble of words. The picture presented is one of confusion until this law or principle is recognized; then the picture is properly focused and appears in its true perspective.

I. Statement Of The Law Of Recurrence

As the word, recurrence, indicates, we may expect this principle of scriptural interpretation to involve the record of an occurrence of an event and the repetition of the account. A thing occurs and then, if it is repeated, it recurs. It is by repetition that we learn things. We must have experience after experience in order to appreciate or to understand fully certain things. The adage that practice makes perfect is true. Advertisers realize the importance of this principle. An advertisement inserted in a paper once is practically money lost. If it is repeated at least three or four times, results begin to come. This is what advertisers have told me, and I have tried and learned by experience that this is true. The Lord understands human psychology and knows that a thing must be repeated time and time again in order to make the proper impression upon the human mind. It is therefore in accordance with this principle that the Lord has adopted the principle of the law of recurrence.

I might set forth this fundamental by calling attention to an artist who is painting the portrait of one who is posing for his likeness. After the artist has properly arranged his lights and shades and after he has posed his subject to his liking, he can do in a very short time what he terms "blocking out the portrait." It is impossible for one to maintain the proper pose and the correct attitude and expression of face for a long period of time. The artist, therefore, after he has posed a person properly, can very quickly transfer the likeness to the canvas. But the mental strain upon the person posing cannot endure indefinitely. He therefore can maintain one pose only a very short time. A second sitting is necessary. At this time the artist, after having posed his subject, will add new details that were not shown at the first sitting. He will likewise bring out more clearly certain features that he put on the canvas at first. In somewhat the same way the prophets "blocked out the portrait" at the first "sitting." Then they went over the portrait at a subsequent sitting and added new details and brought out more clearly the things given at the first sitting. We must now examine the Scriptures to learn the value of this principle and see its importance.

II. Examination Of Examples Of The Law Of Recurrence

Throughout the writings of the prophets we see this law recurring many, many times. But in this short study we can only choose certain typical cases that will enable us to analyze the principle or principles that are involved so that we may be able to recognize these basic truths in other cases and thus be better able to interpret the Scriptures.

THE first example to which I wish to call attention is found in Isaiah, chapters 11 and 12. Before studying my analysis and explanation of these chapters, the reader should turn to his Bible and carefully read them. By doing this, he will be better able to follow me as I interpret this passage. If he does this, he will be able very easily to learn the principles involved and will be able by himself to interpret other passages involving these basic truths.

The first ten verses of chapter 11 constitute the blocking out of the portrait. In verses 1 and 2 we see a prediction of the first coming of Messiah when He enters the world by miraculous conception and virgin birth. Of course these two verses do not speak of the virgin birth, but simply speak of the Messiah and of His coming into the world, comparing Him to a shoot that comes out of the stump of a tree and that develops into a tree bearing fruit. These verses are recognized as a prediction of our Lord's first coming.

Verses 3-5 speak of His being a judge, of His meting out justice and righteousness to the poor of the earth, of His smiting the earth with the rod of His mouth, and of His slaying the wicked with the breath of His lips. When our Lord was here upon the earth the first time, He did not play the role of a judge. On the contrary, He was a messenger of good tidings of salvation. When He returns to earth, however, He will take up the role of a judge and will establish justice and righteousness in the earth. In view of these facts we know that verses 3-5 constitute a prophecy concerning the second coming of our Lord.

Following this prediction we see in verses 6-9 a prophecy concerning the lifting of the curse from the earth and of the especial results as it affects the animal creation. Prior to man's disobedience the animals were peaceful. After the curse fell upon the world, they became vicious and bloodthirsty. When our Lord returns to earth to establish His reign of righteousness, He will remove the curse as we learn from other passages, and the animals will be gentle and will no longer have their vicious nature. Thus we know that verses 6-9 are dealing with the second coming of our Lord, or the results of His return to earth.

Verse 10 tells us of Jerusalem and of its being the beauty spot of the whole earth. Psalm 48 gives us a glowing description of glorified Jerusalem when our Lord returns. Thus in these ten verses of Isaiah, chapter 11, we see the first coming of our Lord, His return, the lifting of the curse, and His reigning in Jerusalem, the glorified capital of the whole world.

In 11:11-12:6 Isaiah in this same sermon went back over part of this portrait that had already been blocked out in 11:1-10. He did not touch up all of the picture by any means. On the contrary, he added new details as we shall presently see.

In verses 11:11,12 we see the regathering of Israel for her final establishment in the land of the fathers. According to this prediction God puts forth His hand again the second time to regather His people who are preserved from their world-wide dispersion. God regathered Israel after the Babylonian captivity for the first time. There can be only one more return of Israel to the land, which is the one here foretold. This regathering can be none other than that which is set forth in the vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezek., chap. 37). This regathering has already begun and will continue until it is completed at the time of our Lord's return from heaven to establish His reign of righteousness.

In Isaiah 11:13,14 we find a prediction that the enmity and the jealousy that existed between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel during the period of the divided monarchy will vanish.

In verse 14 we see that, when Israel is gathered back into her land, trouble will arise between the Jews on the one hand and the Philistines, the Edomites, the Moabites, and the children of Ammon on the other. Disturbances between the Jews and the Arabs who have intermarried more or less with the descendants of the Philistines, Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites have been going on ever since 1929. They will continue indefinitely to go on; but here is a promise that the Jews will in the end be victorious in the struggle. In other words, verse 14 is being partially fulfilled at the present time.

Verses 15 and 16 call attention to God's opening up a way for the Hebrews who will be in Egypt to return to the land of their fathers. He will likewise open up the way through the Euphrates River for those Jews who will be in Mesopotamia to return home. He will do this for them as He did for their ancestors when He brought them out of the land of Egypt.

Chapter 12 tells of the blessedness and joy of the Hebrew people when they are restored to their land and are in fellowship with God, which prophecy will be fulfilled in the Millennial Era.

From this little survey of the contents of these two chapters we can see that 11:11-12:6 constitutes an example of the law of recurrence. In Other words, in these verses, the prophet added new details connected with the return of the Lord which he discussed in verses 3-10 of chapter 11. This whole prophecy would be thrown into confusion and would be unintelligible if one did not recognize this law of recurrence. Moreover, this Scripture would contradict other passages if one does not recognize this law. A failure to note this principle would put the return mentioned in 11:11,12 after the Messiah has established His reign of righteousness in Jerusalem. But we know from the vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezek., chap. 37) that this second restoration of the Jews begins and continues for some time in an orderly development. Furthermore, if we do not recognize this law of recurrence, we would have the Jews fighting with the Philistines, the Edomites, the Moabites, and the Ammonites during the millennial reign of our Lord—which thing is an absurdity. But, by recognizing this law of recurrence, the prediction is indeed intelligible and has a very definite, specific meaning.

ANOTHER illustration of the law of recurrence may be found in the famous passage regarding Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. (See Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39.) Speaking in terms of the artist blocking out the portrait of his subject, I would say that in chapter 38, Ezekiel blocked out the portrait or picture at the first sitting. At the second sitting he filled in more of the details as they are found in chapter 39. A failure to recognize an example of this principle as it applies in these two chapters throws the entire prophecy into confusion. Let us therefore look at these chapters in the light of this principle.

In Ezekiel 38:1-6 we see a prediction of the great "northeastern confederacy" consisting of Russia, Persia, Ethiopia, Put, Germany, and Turkey. In verses 7-9 we learn that, after these powers secretly arm, they send a great aerial armada into the blue which comes like a storm and covers the land of Palestine like a cloud. Thus the northeastern confederacy will send an airborne army to seize Palestine.

In verse 10-12 the motives for this invasion by the forces of Gog are set forth. Jews, a representative number, will be gathered back into the land of their fathers and will be living in unwalled villages, dwelling in peace and security. They will have great wealth. Suddenly, without any warning, this great airborne army will descend upon the land and will have it in its grip. We have every reason to believe that this will be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, armies that ever takes to the air.

In verse 13 we see a second group of nations which I call the "western democracies." In this alliance will be Sheba, Dedan, England, together with all of the "young lions thereof," the western democracies or the younger nations of the world. When Palestine is thus invaded and seized, these western democracies will send a protest. That will be all that they will do. This is seen in verse 13.

In verses 14-16 God shows that it is He who brings them into Palestine. They go there prompted by their own lust for the spoil and wealth of the Jews. God overrules this base instinct to accomplish His plans and purposes. Gog, the future leader of Russia, is, according to verse 17 and 18, the one of whom God has spoken through various prophets of old.

When Palestine is thus seized by this airborne army and is held in the grip of the enemy, God causes an earthquake in the land of Israel, which throws down the mountains and fills the valleys. This quake will snuff out the life of the bulk of this airborne army. Those that are not killed by the initial shock will be thrown into consternation and "every man's sword shall be against his brother." In a miraculous manner the Lord will smite those still alive with pestilence and with blood. Following this He will rain down a cloudburst upon the land which will be accompanied by great hailstones, fire and brimstone. With all of these strokes this mighty, innumerable host of invaders will be wiped out. Thus Gog's armies will have met the Almighty and will be dashed into a Christless grave.

Thus in chapter 38 Ezekiel blocks out his picture. Following the law of recurrence, he supplies other details and completes his picture in chapter 39. To this let us now give special attention. In verses 1-3 of this chapter the Lord reiterates the fact that He is the one who brings Gog with his forces into the land of Palestine. In verses 4 and 5, He tells that He will vanquish him in the holy land. But in verse 6 information is given which is not hinted at in chapter 38. In this verse we are told that God, at the time He wipes out this mighty army in Palestine, will also rain down fire upon Magog, Russia. In 38:22 we see that God rains down hailstones, fire, and brimstone upon the army in Palestine. But nothing is said about His raining fire and brimstone down upon the great country of Russia. In the second picture, however, we see that, this is true. Not only will God rain down fire upon Russia at that time, but He will also rain this fire down upon "them that dwell securely in the isles." The word isles in this passage signifies nations, as we learn from many places. This oracle made against Gog in chapters 38 and 39 concerns itself with telling of the complete defeat and overthrow of Gog and his cohorts. Their military forces, as we have just seen, are destroyed in Palestine. The country sponsoring such a treacherous act, Russia, is likewise destroyed by a stroke of divine judgment. Thus we can see that the prophecy is dealing with God's hurling His judgments against the forces of Gog. At the time of His entering into judgment with him, He rains down fire upon them that are secure in the nations. In view of all of the facts and the sweep of this passage, we are safe in concluding that those who are in the isles of the sea and upon whom the fire is rained from heaven are those who are aiding and abetting Gog and his lieutenants in their lawless plan for world revolution. Or, in other words, these upon whom the fire and brimstone rain and who are secure among the nations, are the fifth columnists of the Russian government. Thus, when the invasion of Palestine comes, God, with a series of judgments, will wipe out completely the regime of Gog and his cohorts.

In verses 9 and 10 we see that, when Gog goes there with his armies and with untold equipment, there will be sufficient wood gathered from the wreckage of his weapons to furnish the natives of the land with firewood for seven years. This is, to be taken literally. Seven months will be occupied in cleansing the land from the dead bodies of that innumerable host that will be wiped out by the judgments of God. This is set forth in verses 11-16.

When the armies of Gog are overthrown in Palestine, the birds of the heavens will be invited to come and feast upon the carcasses of this army. This thought is presented in verse 17-20.

The overthrow of the armies of Gog when they invade Palestine occurs before the Tribulation, as I show beyond a peradventure in my small volume entitled When Gog's Armies Meet the Almighty. Thus, in chapter 38, the picture of this future invasion and of the end of this great army is blocked out in chapter 38. The picture is touched up and completed in Ezekiel 39:1-16.

But this signal overthrow of the forces of Gog, before the Tribulation by divine intervention is suggestive of the overthrow of the forces of the Antichrist at the end of the Tribulation, and of the inauguration of the kingdom of God when the Antichrist is overthrown. Thus in verses 17-29 the prophet goes from the discussion of the overthrow of Gog before the Tribulation to the overthrow of the Antichrist and the establishment of the kingdom of God upon the earth after the Tribulation. When these chapters are thus studied in the light of the principle of the law of recurrence, they become very intelligible and most definite. Clarity of thought and perception is what is needed today in the study of the prophetic word.

I WISH to call attention to one more illustration of this law of recurrence, which is found in the Olivet Discourse as recorded in Matthew, chapters 24 and 25. In terms of the illustration of painting a picture, I would say that our Lord blocked out His portrait in Matthew 24:1-31 at the first sitting. At the second sitting, He touched up and completed the picture as we see in 24:32-25:46. Unless one recognizes an illustration of the law of recurrence in this passage, it is but a jumble of predictions. But when one recognizes this fact, the prophecy becomes very intelligible to him.

Let us look at the facts which are presented in 24:1-31. In verses 1 and 2 the Lord made a prediction concerning the destruction of the Temple, which prophecy was fulfilled, as we know, in A.D. 70. In verse 3 the disciples asked the Lord two questions: (1) When would the prophecy be fulfilled; (2) what would be the sign of two events, of His coming and of the consummation of the age. In view of the fact that there would be false Christs appearing from time to time, Jesus depicted them in verses 4 and 5. Then in verse 6, he warned the disciples against drawing hasty conclusions with reference to the end of the age when a war would break forth; for He declared that, during the entire Christian Dispensation, there would be wars and rumors of wars. Hence they were not to attach any prophetic significance to any of these. When, therefore, a war would break out, declared he, the end would not be yet; for "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines and earthquakes in divers places. 8 But all these things are the beginning of travail" (vss. 7, 8). The wars and rumors of wars are local conflicts, which characterize the Christian Dispensation. "Nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom" of verse 7 is a prediction of a world war. This language is a peculiar Hebrew idiom which appears in the Old Testament. When it is examined in the light of its context, it is seen to be a war that affects all of the territory before the prophet's vision when he used a like expression. Since Jesus in the Olivet Discourse had a world outlook, His use of this idiom could mean only a world war, that begins with one nation rising against another and other nations coming in until it becomes a global conflict. Such a world war attended by famines, and Luke adds pestilences, and great earthquakes constitutes, said Jesus, the first birth pain—the warning to the world that the time to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God is at hand. Thus verses 7 and 8 foretell that the sign of the end of the age is a world war, attended by famines, pestilences, and great earthquakes. Following this prediction is one concerning the first half of the Tribulation, found in verses 9-14. In this period of travail iniquity will abound but the gospel is to be preached at that time unto all the nations. When the full testimony will have been given, then the end, the end of the age concerning which the Apostles asked, would come.

The "abomination of desolation," according to verse 15, will be set up in the middle of the Tribulation. This abomination is nothing but an idol, the image of the Antichrist, which will be set up in the middle of the Tribulation, as we learn in Revelation, chapter 13. Matthew 24:15-28 is a description of the second half of the Tribulation.

In verses 29-31 we see that, at the conclusion of the Tribulation, there will be a total blackout of the heavenly bodies. Then will appear the sign of the Son of man coming in heaven. At that time He will also gather up His elect from the four corners of the earth. When He thus comes, He takes the world situation in hand and establishes His world-wide reign of righteousness.

Thus in Matthew 24:1-31 Jesus has outlined the entire Christian Dispensation, beginning with His day and taking us through the present era and the Tribulation, which follows, and has taken us to His second coming. At this time He, in the illustration of blocking out the picture, finishes that phase of the work. Then, beginning with verse 32, He begins to fill in or add details—emphasizing some things that He had mentioned before—and to add new ones. Thus in verses 32 and 33 He declared: "Now from the fig tree learn her parable: when her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth its leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; 33 even so ye also, when ye see all these things, know ye that he is nigh, even at the doors." The fig tree means the fig tree. When its buds begin to become tender, and it begins to put forth, one knows that the summer is near. Now Jesus said in the same manner that the ones who see "all these things" can draw a conclusion with reference to the nearness of His return. The words in the original rendered "all these things" are the very ones that He used in verse 8 in the quotation: "But all these things are the beginning of travail." The "all these things" in verse 8 are none other than a world war, famines, pestilences, and great earthquakes attending this global conflict. Thus in verses 32 and 33 "fig tree" can be nothing but a fig tree. There is nothing to indicate a departure from the literal meaning. We must, therefore, understand the Lord as referring to a literal fig tree. The people who are living when the fig tree begins to put forth its leaves and to bud know that summer is close at hand. Jesus said that, in the same way, the one who sees "all these things," a global conflict attended by famines, pestilences, and great earthquakes in divers places, can know that His coming is close at hand. How close? The answer is: "Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished." Was He speaking of the generation that would be dying off when the global conflict would break forth upon the world? Certainly that would not have any meaning. Neither was He talking about the generation that had spent half of its life. All the facts of the context demand that we understand this to be the generation that was rising and that was old enough to look at the prophecy, then to examine current events, and to identify the raging conflict as the one foretold by the Lord. Thus the generation that was old enough at the time of the first global conflict, 1914-1918, was the one of which He was speaking in verse 34. From this fact we see that Jesus in verses 32 and 33 was talking about World War I. Here He adds a detail to His picture, that He omitted in verses 7 and 8. This is a very important bit of information.

In verses 36-39 the Lord Jesus told us that the same conditions will develop prior to the Tribulation, about which He spoke in verses 9-28, as existed in the days of Noah immediately before the catastrophe of the Flood. In those days, prior to the Flood, men were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, buying and selling, until the very day that Noah entered the ark. The Flood came and destroyed all of that godless generation. The Lord says that those times will be duplicated immediately before the Tribulation. Thus there is no promise in the Scriptures of a great revival prior to the Tribulation. The judgments of the Tribulation will come suddenly upon the world, and the bulk of the people upon the earth will be swept away by that titanic catastrophe. Prior to the bursting forth of the Tribulation upon the world, two men will be in a field; one will be taken and one left (vs. 40). Two women will be grinding at a mill; one will be taken and one left (41). The disciples therefore are urged to watch for they know not on what day the Lord will return. From the entire drift of the thought it is clear that Jesus here was speaking of the rapture of the saints, when He descends from the heavens to the air to raise the dead in Christ and to catch up the living saints. He continues to speak of this great event down through verse 44. In verses 45-51 He speaks of the faithful and the unfaithful servants. In 25:1-13 He describes those who are in the kingdom of heaven. A study of the parables of the thirteenth chapter of Matthew shows what Jesus meant by the kingdom of heaven and who are in it. Now all of those who are in the kingdom of heaven fall into two groups—the saved and the lost. The saved are, in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, represented by wise virgins. The second group, the lost, are represented by the five foolish virgins. In 25:14-30 Jesus spoke of rewarding those who are in the kingdom of heaven. The man receiving the five talents gained five others and was rewarded accordingly. The one who received two talents gained with them two others and was likewise rewarded. But the one who received one talent buried it and did nothing about it. He was cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This one represents the man who is in the kingdom of heaven, but is unsaved and does not use the talent that is given to him.

From this survey of 24:32-25:30 it is evident that Jesus was talking about the rapture and things connected with that glorious event. But with 25:31 He left a discussion of the rapture and went to the end of the Tribulation and spoke about His glorious coming. Thus between verses 30 and 31 the seven years of the Tribulation intervene. The relation between 24:32-25:31 and the block of Scripture consisting of 25:31-46 is an illustration of the law of double reference, which we studied in last month's meditation.

By anyone's carefully studying the law of recurrence and the illustrations discussed in this article, he can soon learn to recognize an example of this most important law.


Links to prior studies in the "Rules of Interpretation" series may found in our Library.

Reprinted by permission of the Biblical Research Society, where other outstanding studies by Dr. Cooper may be found. Links to the entire "Rules of Interpretation" series may be found at http://www.biblicalresearch.info/page7.html.
A brief biography of Dr. Cooper may also be found
on the Biblical Research Society home page.

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