Click on header to return to print index

Literal Interpretation of Scriptures

When I examine the pre-tribulation rapture, I have found it intriguing how the pre-trib position differs from what I read in the scriptures. Am I examining scripture correctly, or do pre-tribbers have a case? There are things pre-tribbers insist upon in order to support their point of view: 

  1.  Jesus' next coming is imminent (I have a reply to this position in my article, Imminence)--  that He will come "any moment" to "rapture" the church before the tribulation. Other things they insist upon is;  

  2. A clear distinction between God's program for Israel and God's program for the Church  (I have written an article on this position, Elect); and  

  3. A consistent and regular use of a literal principle of interpretation.


Through this article, we will see if dispensational pre-tribbers interpret scripture literally, or if they use their own method of interpretation. But before we begin, Let's look at some very important words and their diffinitions. And one of the best sources for definitions  is  A Merriam Webster's dictionary. And these definitions come courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online.


The first word is literal: 


Main Entry: 1lit·er·al 
Pronunciation: 'li-t(&-)r&l
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Medieval Latin litteralis, from Latin, of a letter, from littera letter
Date: 14th century
1 a : according with the letter of the scriptures b : adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression : ACTUAL <liberty in the literal sense is impossible -- B. N. Cardozo> c : free from exaggeration or embellishment <the literal truth> d : characterized by a concern mainly with facts <a very literal man>
2 : of, relating to, or expressed in letters
3 : reproduced word for word : EXACT, VERBATIM <a literal translation>


The next word is verbatim, since it was one of the words that is used to define the word literal:


Main Entry: 1ver·ba·tim 
Pronunciation: (")v&r-'bA-t&m
Function: adverb
Etymology: Middle English, from Medieval Latin, from Latin verbum word
Date: 15th century
: in the exact words : word for word



According to God's word, there is a method of reading the Bible? As it says in the book of Deuteronomy.


Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.


Deuteronomy 4:2 KJV 


In Deuteronomy, God instructs the Israelites that they should not add unto the word that He commanded them.  Nor should they reduce or diminish from his word as well. Is this the literal method of reading God's word? We conclude that we are to take His word verbatim, or literally.  God again reiterates His position later in Deuteronomy:


What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.


Deuteronomy 12:32 KJV

As we continue into our study, we will look at key verses that dispensationalists use to support their position. For the sake of time and space, we will not go over all of  the verses. But we will examine the verses that they use to support their strongest arguments. If these verses can't prove pre-trib or favors the post-tribulation position, then they will  give pre-tribbers a death blow to their view. And we will use one that isn't one of their strongest arguments. For if it is true, then they have a point, and their is a valid support for pre-tribulationism. But if it doesn't then they still could be correct.  Because their strongest arguments can give them validity. However, If one -passage clearly proves post-tribulation and there are other passages that support pre-trib, then there is  a contradiction in scripture. 


We will start at the part of scripture in 1 Thessalonians.


 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent  them which are asleep.  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:    Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort  one another with these words.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 KJV


In chapter, Paul instructed them concerning those who have died and are no longer with them. And they were grieving for them as though they had no hope. So Paul told them that if they believed Jesus died and rose again, then God will rise them also at the Coming of the Lord. By the word of the Lord that those who are alive shall not prevent (or precede them) those who are asleep. Then

What is the main focus in this part of scripture? was it the rapture, or was it those who have fallen asleep? It starts out with those have fallen asleep. 


The pre-tribbers claim that this happens before the tribulation when Jesus secretly brings back the dead in Christ, and the ones who are still alive will be caught up to meet the Lord Jesus in the air. And then Jesus brings them back into Heaven. And they remain there during the tribulation. Is this the literal interpretation of 1 Thessalonians chapter 4?


In these verses, Paul does not say this happens before the tribulation. And there is no indication that this is secret. However, we see the word "shout," there is a voice of the archangel, and there is a trumpet sound. And Paul doesn't say that these sounds are unheard by the non-Christians. So, do the pre-tribbers interpret this literally?


There is a key part of this  verse many pre-tribbers over look. Paul did say  the ones who are alive will not precede those who have fallen asleep. And He did say the dead shall rise first. And then those who are alive will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. One thing we must understand is when the dead rise because the rapture can't happen before then. One key verse is in Revelation 20:



And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.


Revelation 20:4-5 KJV


In Revelation, John gives gives an account of what happens after the tribulation. He saw thrones of those who have sat upon them. And they were given to them judgment. And he saw the souls that were

They reigned with Christ for a thousand years. And Paul said the rest of the dead did not raise for a thousand years. Paul said "this is the first resurrection." If this is the first resurrection, can there a resurrection before the first resurrection? So we can conclude that the Rapture happens after the tribulation because this is when the dead in Christ are raised.


However, notable pre-tribbers like Hal Lindsey disagree. Lindsey says concerning this passage:


"In this chapter of Revelation a first and second resurrection are mentioned. The first one has several phases to it and it is made up of believers only."1


He goes on to say that Christ was the First fruits of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 and his resurrection was the first-phase. The second phase happens at the pre-trib rapture of the church. The third phase happens after the tribulation for the Martyred tribulation saints and the Old Testament Jews. And the fourth phase happens after the millennium for the mortals believers who died in Christ during the millennium. 2


In the words of Lindsey, there are phases to the first resurrection. But does John say the resurrection in chapter 20 was "the third phase of the first resurrection?. Did Lindsey reproduce his interpretation word for word? We can conclude that He didn't. But continuing further in to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul said the order of the resurrection:


But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.


1 Corinthians 15:20-22 KJV


As we read in first Corinthians, Paul did not say there was a two-phased coming, or the ones who were Christ were in  two-phases of the resurrection. So Lindsey did not have a literal interpretation of  scripture.


We continue on the same theme concerning the resurrection of the dead and it comes from 1 Corinthians. 


Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.


1 Corinthians 15:51-53 KJV

In this part of scripture, Paul wrote about the resurrection. There was some who were teaching Jesus did not rise from the dead. And Paul reminded them if Christ had not risen, then their faith was useless. The ones who proclaimed  the resurrection would then be false teachers. And everyone would still in their sins. Paul tells them about a mystery. Not all in Christ will die. But they will be changed

Because the corrupt must put on the incorruptible. 


Pre-tribbers use these verses to support the idea of the pre-trib rapture. At the last trump, believers will be raptured  and go up to heaven at an instant (in the twinkling of an eye). They also claim this happens so fast that unbelievers will not know that the rapture has happened. Since there is no mention that the ones who are alive will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air as Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, can we conclude Paul instructed them on the rapture?


As we examine these verses further, Paul referred to the resurrection. And told them the mystery. That All believers will not die. And at the last trump The dead are raised incorruptible and then the ones who are alive will be changed. Notice, however, Paul doesn't say the ones who are alive will be caught up as he did in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4: "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." And Paul didn't say this is happening before the tribulation, as pre-tribbers insist. Paul did say our bodies will be changed "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump." 


As we continue further, Paul said this will happen at the Last Trump. If this is the Last Trump, can we logically conclude there are other trumpets that sound after "the last trumpet)? In Revelation, there are seven trumpets that sound during the tribulation. And the seventh trumpet happens after the tribulation. In the instructions at the Mount of Olives, Jesus said  that after the tribulation, a great trumpet will sound.4 To make a conclusion that there are trumpet sounds after the last trump is illogical. As we concluded in I Thessalonians chapter 4 we can also conclude for these verses in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Again Paul says the dead in Christ will rise incorruptible. So when do the the dead raised? Look again at the reference at Revelation 20 above.


We can conclude Paul did not discuss the Rapture in 1 Corinthians 15. And since the dead are raised after the tribulation, then there can be no pre-trib rapture. And again pre-tribers did not "adhere to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression."5


We continue with another critical part of scripture in Revelation 3. 


Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.


Revelation 3:10 KJV


This is another key part of scripture pre-tribbers use to support their argument. They believe that since these Philadelphians kept the word of Jesus' patience, He promised them that he would keep them out of the tribulation. But Jesus said he will be kept from the hour of temptation. Hal Lindsey who so strongly insists writes verse 10  in "There's a New World Coming":


Because you have obeyed my admonition for patient endurance,  I will also keep you out of the hour of trial which will come upon all the world, to test those who dwell upon the earth6


As they argue, the word kept is from the Greek tērēo which means "kept out of." And from comes from  the greek word "Ek" meaning "out of"   However, Strongs difines "tērēo":


  •  attend to carefully, take care of
  1. to guard
  2. metaph. to keep, one in the state in which he is
  3. to observe
  4. to reserve: to undergo something



out of, from, by, away from

 So, therefore "out of" is one of the definitions for Ek. But, notice, "from" is one of the definitions as well. But modern versions use "from." As we continue Jesus used hour. Do pre-tribbers use this word literaly? Strongs difines hour, which is from the Greek hōra:

  • a certain definite time or season fixed by natural law and returning with the revolving year
    1. of the seasons of the year, spring, summer, autumn, winter
  • the daytime (bounded by the rising and setting of the sun), a day
  • a twelfth part of the day-time, an hour, (the twelve hours of the day are reckoned from the rising to the setting of the sun)
  • any definite time, point of time, moment.

And we look upon the next word, King James uses the word "temptation" whereas other bible versions use the word "trial." Is temptation used to imply the tribulation? Let's look closer. the word temptation is from the Greek "peirasmos." As we look at Strong's definition:

  1. an experiment, attempt, trial, proving
    1. trial, proving: the trial made of you by my bodily condition, since condition served as to test the love of the Galatians toward Paul (Gal. 4:
    1. the trial of man's fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy
      1. an enticement to sin, temptation, whether arising from the desires or from the outward circumstances
      2. an internal temptation to sin 1b
    2. of the temptation by which the devil sought to divert Jesus the Messiah from his divine errand
      1. of the condition of things, or a mental state, by which we are enticed to sin, or to a lapse from the faith and holiness
      2. adversity, affliction, trouble: sent by God and serving to test or prove one's character, faith, holiness
    3. temptation (i.e. trial) of God by men
      1. rebellion against God, by which his power and justice are, as it were, put to the proof and challenged to show themselves


However, in the current bible versions, they use "temptation" or "trial."  they do not use the word "tribulation." The word used for temptation in Revelation chapter 3 is from the Greek "peirasmos." And the word for tribulation is the Greek thlipsis meaning:


  • a pressing, pressing together, pressure
  • metaph. oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits.


Since the word tribulation doesn't appear in this passage, can we conclude that Jesus promised this church, they would be raptured before the tribulation? Is there anywhere in scripture that literally says the hour of temptation is the tribulation? 


And notice also in verse ten, Jesus didn't say how He will keep them from the hour of temptation, i.e. that He will come and take them to heaven before it starts. Therefore we cannot conclude Jesus promised a rapture into heaven in order to keep them out of the tribulation. And again, pre-tribbers did not interpret this verse verbatim.


From the serious to the not so serious as we look at Revelation Chapter 4:


After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.


Revelation 4:1 KJV


In this part of scripture, Pre-tribbers claim when John saw the door opened up in heaven, a trumpet was calling him and the church up to heaven at  the pre-tribulation rapture. And when the voice told him to "come up here," John and the church were beamed up into heaven. Is this really what John wrote? As we look carefully John only mentioned himself in this verse. He didn't mention the church!  So, in this example, pre-tribbers did not interpret this verse word for word. And we also conclude that pretribbers had an exaggerated method of intrerpretation.


As we have examined their strongest and not so strong argument, we shall look  further in to some of their other claims. Pre-tribbers also claim the instructions to his disciples concerning His coming were for the Jews only, while others insist they are for the "tribulation saints." Can they show us in scripture that supports their argument? As was shown in previous articles, in Matthew, Jesus was with the disciples privately. These disciples were the ones who believed in the Lord Jesus. There were no others there, i.e., the Jews or the "tribulation saints." So to claim otherwise is illogical.  Just before His ascension Jesus gives the disciples these instructions:


Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen


Matthew 28:19-20 KJV


Jesus gave the disciples instruct to make disciples of all nations and to teach them to observe all things He commanded them. This also includes the instructions in Matthew 24. So, therefore since pre-ribbers cannot literally show us that Jesus' instructions are not for the church, their claim is invalid. And  Jesus clearly told the disciples to teach disciples of all nations all things he commanded them. Therefore the post-tribulation position is confirmed.


As we continue further, dispensationalists claim there is a clear distinction between God's program for Israel and God's program for the Church.  Their view is that certain verses of scripture were given to the Jews. The bigger point of their argument is the Seventy Weeks in Daniel. Since the church isn't around for the first sixty-nine weeks, then it's logical it won't be around for the seventieth week because the church isn't mentioned there as well.  However, are there verses in scripture that say otherwise?  We have the New Testament. And we have examined the verses above by literally interpreting them . And they clearly show the church isn't raptured until after the tribulation. 


Paul wrote to the Romans:


For whatsoever things were written aforetime7 were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.


Romans 15:4 KJV


And in the New American Standard Bible:


For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.


Romans 15:4 NASB

Paul wrote what was written in earlier times was written for our instruction. So we can conclude that the instructions in Daniel concerning the Seventy weeks were written for our instruction as well. 


Paul Also wrote to Timothy:


All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.


1 Timothy 3:17-17


We conclude, therefore that all scripture was written for our learning. And nowhere, is there found that specific verses was written for a certain privileged few such as tribulation saints.


Before I conclude this article, from the examples that were given, pre-tribbers do not practice a "consistent and regular use of a literal principle of interpretation." We have seen in all the examples, even there strongest ones we find no reference to these events happening "before the tribulation." Neither can they show word for word that Jesus' coming will be secret, nor do we have any hint that He will take the church with him back into heaven. 


In pre-tribulationalism, we have seen an exaggerated interpretation of facts compared to scriptures. Therefore, their consistent and regular use of a literal principle of interpretation is a fallacy. God is very clear about scripture. We should not add nor take away from his word:


Every word of God is pure:  he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.  Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.


Proverbs 30:5-6 KJV


And he gives a clear warning to those who add to his word:  "lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar."




1-Hal Lindsey, There's A New World Coming, 1984 edition, Harvest House Publishers, page 259


2-ibid. page 259-260


3-For a further reading, please see "With A Shout." .

4-Matthew 24:29-31.


5- For further reading, please see "Twinkling of an eye." .


6-There's A New World Coming, 1984 edition, Hal Lindsey, Page 49.

The page preceding the Table of Contents, under  the Acknowledgements says ; "Except where otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations in this book (including the text of Revelation) are taken from the Kings James Version of the Bible, with clarifying emendations from the original languages of Hal Lindsey."

Are we to trust Mr. Lindsey with his clarifying emendations" when all reliable versions of the bible use "from" instead of  "out of"?


7-Strong gives us this definition for aforetime: