How To Study – Rule 11

Rule 11: If a word makes good sense as it stands, and does no violence to the simple laws of nature, it is to be understood literally; if not, figuratively.

In one of his articles responding to Mr. Stuart’s views, Miller had an additional comment about the literal or figurative rule. He said this in response to Stuart’s article,

“His next, and third part: “Designations of time in the prophecies.” On this point, his rule, which he has laid down on page 65, is perfectly right, and must, I think, stand the test in all cases. “Every passage of Scripture, or of any other book, is to be interpreted as bearing its plain, and primary, and literal sense, unless good reasons can be given why it should be tropically (figuratively) understood.”

William Miller, Miller’s Reply to Stuart’s “Hints on the interpretation of prophecy” p. 7, par. 2 {1842 WiM, MRSH 7.2}


MILLER’S PROOFS (texts which demonstrate the Bible principles in support of this rule)

Revelation 12:1-2 “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2 And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.”

Revelation 17:3-7 “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: 5 And upon her forehead [was] a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration. 7 And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.”

My Comments

It takes good discernment to apply this rule, because many words in the Bible could seem to be either literal or figurative. We might become confused. But this rule is practical advise. If something makes sense as literal, just go with that understanding unless you see that it doesn’t fit as you study it further.

One of the examples William Miller gives in his proof texts is Revelation 17:3-7. The beast John sees is clearly not anything like we have seen in nature. It has seven heads and ten horns. Because it seems quite fantastic, we can safely look for its meaning as a figure. If it doesn’t seem that clear to you, keep praying and studying and testing different options.

Spirit of Prophecy Support

“The truths most plainly revealed in the Bible have been involved in doubt and darkness by learned men, who, with a pretense of great wisdom, teach that the Scriptures have a mystical, a secret, spiritual meaning not apparent in the language employed. These men are false teachers. It was to such a class that Jesus declared: “Ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God.” Mark 12:24. The language of the Bible should be explained according to its obvious meaning, unless a symbol or figure is employed. Christ has given the promise: “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.” John 7:17. If men would but take the Bible as it reads, if there were no false teachers to mislead and confuse their minds, a work would be accomplished that would make angels glad and that would bring into the fold of Christ thousands upon thousands who are now wandering in error.”

– The Great Controversy, p. 598 par. 3 {GC 598.3}


Bible, King James Version

Quotes taken from the Ellen G. White Writings, Comprehensive Research Edition 2008 CD


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