John M’Clintock and James Strong explore varying ways in which the Book of Revelation can be read in “Modes of Interpreting the Book of Revelation.” They distinquish among the Praeterist, Futurist, and Historical or Continuous methods. They claim the “most interesting interpretation” to be that of the Historical and Continuous expositors who define the Book of Revelation as being a “progressive history of the fortunes of the church.” For a scholar or student to choose, or make use of all three of these interpretive paths, M’Clintock and Strong suggest that there are ways to look past the confusions and “incongruities with these interpretation schemes.

Two methods have been proposed by which the student of Revelation may escape the incongruities and inconsistencies of the different interpretations, while he may derive edification from the truth they contain. It has been suggested that the book may be regarded as a prophetic poem, dealing in general and inexact descriptions, much of which may be set down as poetic imagery — mere embellishment. But such a view would be difficult to reconcile with the belief that the book is an inspired prophecy. A better suggestion is made, or rather is revived, by Dr. [Thomas] Arnold in his sermons On the Interpretation of Prophecy: that we should bear in mind that predictions have a lower historical sense, as well as a higher spiritual sense; that there may be one, or more than one, typical, imperfect, historical fulfilment of a prophecy, in each of which the higher spiritual fulfilment is shadowed forth more or less distinctly.

The suggestion that the book be read as a “prophetic poem” is intriguing and brings to question the tenuous split between what is meant as fiction and as fact. The discussion of “general” and “inexact” descriptions leads to the idea that the “imagery” used is meant as metaphor or as fiction — not as literal fact meant to be interpreted as prophecy. There is, of course, the difficulty though, as M’Clintock and Strong state, that the Book is largely considered an “inspired prophecy” and to claim it a “poem” would demerit this belief. Dr. Arnold’s interpretation is quite interesting because it merges the two views; suggesting that something can be “spiritual” and thus be less historically accurate. Is spirituality then congruous with claiming something fictitious? Can something still achieve spiritual fulfillment through imagery and moral, but not be meant to be literally interpreted or factual.


1. As a first question, I’d like to pose this last one: Is being spiritual under Arnold’s definition at least somewhat congruous with being fictional?

2. Which of the three modes of interpretation is most commonly used and is it possible to merge the three to create one’s own distinct interpretation without falling specifically into any of the categories?

3. M’Clintock and Strong state that we can “escape” such “inconsistencies” by finding “edification from the truth” within the interpretations. Using “truth” here seems tricky? How is truth defined and again is this a literal truth or a spiritual one?

4. Arnold suggests multiple fulfillments of prophecy are possible, does this mean the Book is to be interpreted by individuals for individual use or must it be considered by a spiritual individual for the larger faith, could a common man claim finding a prophecy within or must he or she be considered worthy of prophetic understanding to do so?

Victorian Overview Religion Victorian Apocalyptics

Last modified 15 February 2011