This page is part of the basic guide to the participatory study method designed by Henry Neufeld. You may want to start from the outline of the method or at the introductory description. This page will only describe methods that are peculiar to this particular type of Biblical literature.
This essay deals specifically with how to interpret visions. It builds on material in my essay Interpreting Prophecy which should be read first.
Prophetic Visions and Dreams in the Bible
There are quite a number of instances of prophetic visions and dreams in the Bible, though they are heavily concentrated in Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation, and also scattered through the various prophetic books. Isaiah and Ezekiel, for example, give particularly vivid reports of visions.
Some of the visions and dreams and their major message are included in the following table:
|Vision or Dream||Passage||Note|
|Abimelech’s Dream||Genesis 20:3-7||Abimelech is given information verbally in the dream. No symbolism is used.|
|Jacob’s Ladder Dream||Genesis 28:12-17||The ladder to heaven with angels on it, though most information is in the words spoken.|
|Jacob and Laban’s Guidance Dreams||Genesis 31:10-24|
|Joseph’s First Two Dreams||Genesis 37:5-11||The symbolism is quite clear in these dreams.|
|The Baker and Butler’s Dream||Genesis 40:5-8||The interpretations are presented by Joseph.|
|Pharaoh’s Dreams||Genesis 41||The interpretations are presented by Joseph.|
|Solomon’s Dream||1 Kings 3:5-9|
|Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of the Image||Daniel 2||Daniel interprets|
|Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of a Tree||Daniel 4||Daniel interprets|
|Daniel’s Dream of 4 Beasts||Daniel 7||Interpretation follows dream|
|Joseph’s Dream||Matthew 1:20|
|Pilate’s Wife’s Dream||Matthew 27:19|
|Abraham’s 2nd Call Vision||Genesis 15|
|Isaiah’s Call||Isaiah 6|
|Ezekiel’s Call||Ezekiel 1|
|Temple Judgment||Ezekiel 8-10|
|Dry Bones||Ezekiel 37|
|Temple Vision||Ezekiel 40-48|
|Daniel’s Visions||Daniel 8-12||After the initial dream of Daniel 7, Daniel has severl further visions.|
|Eight Visions||Zechariah 1-6|
|Man from Macedonia||Acts 16:9-10|
|Revelation||Entire Book||Entire book probably consists of a single vision|
The Vision State
When I was in undergraduate study, I spent a quarter of independent study on Ezekiel’s vision in the first chapter. One of the things I became convinced of was that much of the difficulty in understanding that chapter resulted from Ezekiel writing it under the influence of the vision. He was not able to think of the precise wording to use, and so he described things multiple times, and sometimes repeated himself and seemed confused. One commentator (Eichrodt, Ezekiel) has even gone to the effort to try and clean out the first chapter of things that he feels are the result of textual corruption. It is these elements that I believe are part of the vision state.
After my study, I tried several times to present my understanding of Ezekiel 1 to various audiences, spent at least a couple of hours on each occasion, and then had only partial success. Then I had the opportunity to present the same material to a group of students who had experienced the Pensacola Outpouring (Brownsville Revival, Pensacola, Florida, 1995-2000). Each of them had either experienced a vision or at least knew someone who did. Within 20 minutes, I saw looks of comprehension on their faces, and soon they were discussing the chapter in some detail. They understood the excitement of having a vision, and the difficulty of explaining what you see to another person.
You can see a similar phenomenon in Revelation, as John finds it difficult to describe what he sees. Look especially at the vision of Jesus in the first chapter.
Remember two things as you interpret visions and dreams: 1) The language used in describing the vision may be imprecise, and may change, and 2) The vision description may not be entirely logical or sequential, and may also not be chronological. It is probably arranged visually, and not according to another logical scheme. Look for the tie-ins between scenes in the vision, and look for multiple descriptions, and combine them in trying to understand what it is that the prophet sees.
Visions present the same type of information, and have the same purpose as prophecy that is presented in any other way. Remember again to combine the information in this essay with that in Interpreting Prophecy.