William Miller
Bible Study

Soon after his renunciation of deism, in conversing with a friend respecting the hope of a glorious eternity through the merits and intercessions of Christ, he was asked how he knew there was such a Saviour. He replied, ‘It is revealed in the Bible!’ ‘How do you know the Bible is true?’ was the response, with a reiteration of his former arguments on the contradictions and mysticisms in which he had claimed it.

Mr. Miller felt such taunts in their full force. He was at first perplexed; but, on reflection, he considered that if the Bible is a revelation of God, it must be consistent with itself; all its parts must harmonize, must have been given for man ‘s instruction, and, consequently, must be adapted to his understanding. He, therefore said, ‘Give me time, and I will harmonize all these apparent contradictions to my own satisfaction, or I will be a deist still.’

He then devoted himself to the prayerful reading of the word. He laid aside all commentaries, and used the marginal references and his concordance as his only helps. He saw that he must distinguish between the Bible and all the peculiar and partisan interpretations of it, The Bible was older than them all, must be above them all; and he placed it there. He saw that it must correct all interpretations; and in correcting them, its own pure light would shine without the mists which traditional belief had involved it in. He resolved to lay aside all preconceived opinions, and to receive, with child-like simplicity, the natural and obvious meaning of Scripture.

He pursued the study of the Bible with the most intense interest-whole nights, as well as days, being devoted to that object. At times, delighted with truth which shone forth from the sacred volume, making clear to his understanding the great plan of God for the redemption of fallen man; and at times puzzled and almost distracted by seemingly inexplicable or contradictory passages, he persevered, until the application of his great principle of interpretation was triumphant. He became puzzled only to be delighted, and delighted only to persevere the more in penetrating its beauties and mysteries. His manner of studying the Bible is thus described by himself:

'I determined to lay aside all my prepossessions, to thoroughly compare scripture with scripture, and to pursue its study in a regular and methodical manner. I commenced with Genesis, and read verse by verse, proceeding no faster than the meaning of the several passages should be so unfolded, as to leave me free from embarrassment respecting any mysticisms or contradictions. Whenever I found anything obscure, my practice was to compare it with all collateral passages; and, by the help of Cruden, I examined all the texts of Scripture in which were found any of the prominent words contained in any obscure portion. Then, by letting every word have its proper bearing on the subject of the text, if my view of it harmonized with every collateral passage in the Bible, it ceased to be a difficulty.

In this way I pursued the study of the Bible, in my first perusal of it, for about two years, and was fully satisfied that it is its own interpreter. I found that, by a comparison of Scripture with history, all the prophecies, as far as they had been fulfilled, had been fulfilled literally; that all the various figures, metaphors, parables, similitude’s of the Bible, were either explained in their immediate connection, or the terms in which they were expressed were defined in other portions of the word; and, when thus explained, are to be literally understood in accordance with such explanation. I was thus satisfied that the Bible is a system of revealed truths, so clearly and simply given that the ‘wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.’ In thus continuing the study, he adopted the following

Rules of Interpretation:

1. Every word must have its proper bearing on the subject presented in the Bible. Proof: Matt. 5: 18.

2. All Scripture is necessary, and may be understood by a diligent application and study. Proof, 2 Tim. 3: 15-17.

3. Nothing revealed in Scripture can or will be hid from those who ask in faith, not wavering. Proof, Deut. 29: 29; Matt, 10: 26, 27; 1 Cor. 2: 10; Phil. 3: 15; Isa. 45: 11; Matt. 21: 22; John 14: 13, 14; 15: 7; James 1: 5, 6; 1 John 5: 13-15.

4. To understand doctrine, bring all the Scriptures together on the subject you wish to know; then let every word have its proper influence; and, if you can form your theory without a contradiction, you cannot be in error. Proof, Isa. 28: 7-29; 35: 8; Prov. 19: 27; Luke 24: 27, 44, 45; Rom. 16: 26; James 5: 19; 2 Pet. 1: 19, 20.

5. Scripture must be its own expositor, since it is a rule of itself. If I depend on a teacher to expound to me, and he should guess at its meaning, or desire to have it so on account of his sectarian creed, or to be thought wise, then his guessing, desire, creed, or wisdom, is my rule, and not the Bible. Proof, Ps. 19: 7-11 119: 97- 105; Matt. 23: 8-10; 1 Cor. 2: 12-16 Eze. 34: 18, 19; Luke 11: 52; Matt. 2: 7, 8.

6. God has revealed things to come, by visions, in figures and parables; and in this way the same things are oftentimes revealed again and again, by different visions, or in different figures and parables. If you wish to understand them, you must combine them all in one. Proof, Ps. 89: 19; Hos. 12: 10; Hab. 2: 2; Acts 2: 17; 1 Cor. 10: 6; Heb. 9: 9, 24; Ps. 78: 2; Matt. 13: 13, 34; Gen. 41: 1-32; Dan. 2d, 7th & 8th; Acts 10: 9-16.

7. Visions are always mentioned as such. Proof, Cor. 12: 1.

8. Figures always have a figurative meaning, and are used much in prophecy to represent future things, times and events-such as mountains, meaning governments; Dan. 2: 35, 44; beasts, meaning kingdoms; Dan. 7: 8, 17; waters, meaning people; Rev. 17: 1, 15; day, meaning year, Eze. 4: 6.

9. Parables are used as comparisons to illustrate subjects, and must be explained in the same way as figures, by the subject and Bible. Proof, Mark 4: 13.

10. Figures sometimes have two or more different significations, as day is used in a figurative sense to represent three different periods of time, namely, first, indefinite; Eccl. 7: 14; second, definite, a day for a year; Eze. 4: 6; and third, a day for a thousand years. 2 Pet. 3: 8. The right construction will harmonize with the Bible, and make good sense; other constructions will not.

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. Rev. 12: 1, 2; 17: 3-7.

12. To learn the meaning of a figure, trace the word through your Bible, and when you find it explained, substitute the explanation for the word used; and, if it make good sense, you need not look further; if not, look again.

13. To know whether we have the true historical event for the fulfillment of a prophecy: If you find every word of the prophecy (after the figures are understood) is literally fulfilled, then you may know that your history is the true event; but if one word lacks a fulfillment, then you must look for another event, or wait its future development; for God takes care that history and prophecy shall agree, so that the true believing children of God may never be ashamed. Proof, Ps. 22: 5; Isa. 45: 17-19; 1 Pet. 2: 6; Rev. 17: 17; Acts 3: 18.

14. The most important rule of all is that you must have faith. It must be a faith that requires a sacrifice, and, if tried, would give up the dearest object on earth, the world and all its desires-character, living, occupation, friends, home, comforts and worldly honors. If any of these should hinder our believing any part of God’s word, it would show our faith to be vain. Nor can we ever believe so long as one of these motives lies lurking in our hearts. We must believe that God will never forfeit his word; and we can have confidence that He who takes notice of the sparrow’s fall, and numbers the hairs of our head, will guard the translation of his own word, and throw a barrier around it, and prevent those who sincerely trust in God, and put implicit confidence in his word, from erring far from the truth.

While thus studying the Scriptures,’-continuing the words of his own narrative,-’I became satisfied, if the prophecies which have been fulfilled in the past are any criterion by which to judge of the manner of the fulfillment of those which are future, that the popular views of the Spiritual reign of Christ-a temporal millennium before the end of the world, and the Jews’ return-are not sustained by the word of God; for I found that all the Scriptures on which those favorite theories are based are as clearly expressed as are those that were literally fulfilled at the first advent, or at any other period in the past.

Taken from William Miller's Autobiography