If you are a Christian and have conversed with end-time groups, you may have asked yourself, ¨How in the world did they get that interpretation from this verse or that word?¨ It seems spiritually bizarre and puzzling.
Some people feel conversations with end-time groups are pointless because Christians show them one set of verses while members of these groups retaliate with other verses (or even use the same ones with different interpretations). For example, Shincheonji interprets those ¨in the light¨ in I Thess. 5:1-8 to refer to SCJ members with the revealed word, whereas Christians view this as all believers in Christ Jesus.
The reality is that Christians and followers of end-time movements use different ¨glasses¨ (or approaches) to explain meanings in the Bible. This leads to some important questions about biblical interpretation.
What method should Christians use to interpret the Scriptures? What approach do final prophets or end-time groups use? Why are interpretations so different?
There are two methods that have been historically unsafe and dangerous. Even though these approaches claim to possess divine help and guidance, they are based more on human authority. Below is a brief description and analysis of them.
1. Group-Guided Approach.
This method is based on the notion that God guides a specific group of leaders to explain meanings and concepts of the Christian faith. The Watchtower Society or the Catholic Magisterium are primary examples. Leaders of these groups emphasize that God´s Spirit gives them interpretative authority, which is why Christians need them.
One result of this approach is that it forces Christians to depend more on human leaders as opposed to seeking God and relying on his help. In addition, leaders end up developing spiritual traditions, teachings, or rules that go beyond what is written. Many of these traditions become the central focus of the group and are even elevated above the simple message of Christ.
Lastly, because these leaders consider themselves interpreters by divine appointment, they become the real authority above the Bible. Moreover, they do not humbly receive correction from the Bible by devoted Christians outside their group.
2. Prophet-Revealer Approach.
This method is based on the belief that God appoints a prophet to be Jesus´ final spokesperson on earth in the end. Through visions, dreams, and revelations, this prophet brings new knowledge regarding Jesus´ second coming and salvation. They believe they are filled with God´s power and Spirit, much like the prophets in the Old Testament.
Members in end-time groups are taught to put aside previous concepts about God and the Bible as they learn new information from the prophet. Their leader offers interpretations that ¨makes sense¨ of mysterious or unfulfilled prophecies. The prophet´s authority is also magnified because they insist all other Christians are spiritually blind and in darkness.
What serious problems emerge with this method?
First, Jesus Christ cautions all Christians to stay away from final prophets who take his place and assume his authority in the end (Mt. 24:4,5, Lk. 21:8). This is a common sign of error in all end-time groups.
Even so, prophets in end-time groups assert God has sent them as a final prophet. They point to ¨revealed¨ prophecies in the Bible foretelling their coming and authority. One example in SCJ is the idea that the Bible has promises of a final pastor in the end. Yet, it is suspicious when only the prophet sees certain texts as prophecies and the language (and context) from the Scriptures communicates something else.
Unbeknownst to them, members subtly believe a prophecy based more on human authority than the Bible.
This leads to a second problem - too much interpretative authority in the hands of one person. Interestingly enough, a prophet offers new light about Bible verses, words, Scripture connections, figurative meanings, prophecies, etc., almost entirely based on an, ¨I say so authority.¨ For instance, Manhee Lee says that the interpretation of ¨east¨ in Rev. 7 refers to Korea because he ¨knows where the east is¨ (Creation of Heaven and Earth, p. 194), but not based on the Scriptures.
As members become more and more involved in their organization, the danger is that the prophet´s interpretations are viewed as more inspired than the Bible itself. Thus, any Bible verse or explanation which contradicts their prophet must be in error, especially from Christians outside their group.
Lastly, something is spiritually amiss when a final prophet is said to be filled with God´s Spirit, yet modifies Jesus´ identity and the clear message of salvation through Christ. They make ¨prophetic knowledge¨ about the Bible a requirement for eternal life instead of being united to Christ Jesus.
3. The Christian Model: Holy Spirit and Bible-Method.
This is the safest and most efficient way to interpret the Scriptures. As Peter said, ¨His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him¨ (2 Pet. 1:3).
As we give our lives to Jesus Christ, believers can rely on God's presence to help them understand the important truths from God (i.e. everything we need for life and godly living). Regardless of one´s church or denomination, the important truths can be known and experienced by all believers. The Scriptures preserve and communicate God´s redemptive message in Christ (2 Tim. 3:16) to all those who sincerely seek him.
Thus, the biggest and most important spiritual truths can be understood without an authoritative leader or group (1 Jn. 2:27, Ps. 119:97-104). In Christian thinking, the clear language in the Bible is superior to a final prophet´s explanations, not the other way around.
In closing, understanding that Shincheonji uses a prophet-interpretation method explains why their interpretations are so innovative and puzzling. This is why Christians and SCJ members can have Bible discussions and be talking past each other. They are using two different methods to interpret the Bible.