I’ve searched for a way to describe the way that people tend to interpret the Bible according to their own preferences. For example, an ultrapatriotic American in the 1980’s (or an ultranationalistic German in the 1930’s) reads prophecy and decides that the prophecy applies to them. Then, as they read other parts of Scripture, they redefine their interpretations based on what they saw in the prophecy.
I think I’ve finally found a term for this: didactic retrodiction. The term didactic means simply “teaching” but retrodiction is more complicated. I encountered the word retrodiction in Raymond C. Hundley’s analysis of the 2012 apocalypse craze, particularly dealing with the writings of Nostradamus:
It is difficult at times to tell whether Nostradamus actually predicted something in amazing detail or whether those who transmitted his text after the event had already taken place made subtle changes in his writings to make it fit the event more exactly. This process is sometimes called “retrodiction.” – Raymond C. Hundley, Will the World End in 2012?, p 47.
In the same sense, it is very easy for interpreters and/or interpretive schools of thought to come to the text of the Bible and see what they believe they should see, based on their context. So, Martin Luther reads the Revelation and sees the papacy as the Antichrist. Tim Lahaye looks at Eastern Europe and sees the potential for the coming of an Antichrist. In both cases, their contextual matrix yields an interpretation that fits with the matrix. And those who adhere to their interpretational school of thought will be taught the same retrodiction. They see the taught interpretation in the text.
No matter who you are, you do this. Covenant theology and dispensationalism (two ways of understanding God’s message of salvation across time) have very set retrodictions which you learn at a fundamental level. Learn one and the other interpretive scheme makes no sense to you. You enter an interpretational matrix that cannot conceive of the other way of thinking.
I deal with retrodiction in my own thinking all the time. I think things are in the Bible that really aren’t. I miss things that were there all the time but I never thought to look. I have conversations with people and sit there dumb-founded because they say the wildest things that make no Biblical sense to me but they hold as absolute convictions.
It is how a Baptist and a Charismatic and a Mormon can read the exact same verses and see completely different things. We all see things in the light of the retrodiction we are trained in.
Acknowledging this is the first step to realizing that you may not be right about everything, that your focus is limited somewhat, that you need to question things you ASSUME immediately without thought, that you cannot accept the first interpretation you encounter.