Basic Dream Interpretation and Hermeneutics

For the past three nights, I’ve had dreams that I not only remembered, but were highly symbolic and seemed to have meaning.  In addition, when I awoke from the first dream I felt that I had had a God dream. I told my wife and I began to give the intepretation. It was strange because I rarely dream anymore and I have never interpreted a dream before. But this seemed to just flow off of my tongue, and speak to our situation.

In fact, I believe this may have been triggered by a visit to a Bridge church and listening to a message online that they did on dream interpretation that night. The Bridge was set up by John Paul Jackson, who is unquestionably the leading Christian dream interpreter today. He has set up an entire school which centers around revelatory gifts, but what is really unique is the depth of insight into dream interpretation. Now there are others who have dealt with Christian dream interpretation, but John Paul Jackson seems to have been called of the Lord in this hour to release revelation to the body of Christ on this subject. I have never had the opportunity to take the classes (they are fairly expensive) but even the few tidbits I’ve gotten have made a lot of sense to me and piqued my interest for more.  Mark Virkler is another leading charismatic who has insight into dream interpretation. But I do not believe it is as extensive or deep, however from what I read on Mark Virkler’s website, I believe it would be largely complementary to John Paul Jackson’s material and perspective.

What really fascinates me about dreams is that underneath they deal with the issue of Biblical typology. They are usually symbolic, encoded messages that must be decoded by use of several keys. Rather than be something artificial like a dream dictionary these keys are deeply rooted in our understanding of Scripture.

During the past few years the Lord has brought me through a process of opening up the Scriptures without which dream interpretation would have been impossible. This was because the fundamentalist/dispensationalist hermeneutics that I first came into the Kingdom with were so literal that they gave no importance to the inherent symbology of the Bible, and where they did, they used it very rigidly and usually in reference to the end of the world. In addition, in Seminary, most of my classes were based on standard evangelical hermeneutics which give more importance to the immediate context, grammar, and background information surrounding a passage, while intentionally downplaying any symbolic aspects.

These left me quite dry and hungry for an alternative. Fortunately, my two Old Testament classes started a paradigm shift for me as I was exposed to a “Biblical Theology” perspective of doing exegesis. Biblical Theology looks at the Bible as a whole, and connects all of the dots together, using words, phrases, concepts and echos. In poetry class, I was taught how what seems to be repetition is actually comparing and contrasting.  Moreover, I got in touch with famous Charismatic Bible interpreter Kevin Conner, and ordered his Bible Interpretation series from Australia.  He reinforced these same principles but with a Spirit filled gifting.

The result of all of this was that I began to recognize that there were Biblical symbols, and that they were not inflexible and monolithic, but that they were flexible — they are used in support of a general theme or themes but not always in exact correspondence.  It’s not that a certain color or animal has to me a very specific thing, but that it is used in a generally contiguous way. In addition, many such symbols may have a reverse.  Take Blood.  Well Blood could deal with killing, but it could deal with sacrifice, and more specifically sacrifice which cleanses from sin. That could be personal sacrifice,  God’s sacrifice. It could be sacrifice in the context of covenant. On the flip side, the Bible says “the life is in the blood” so blood may deal with life. So the context in which you put the blood is important to what it signifies.  But notice that all of these meanings are tied around the same concept, even though life and death are clearly opposite. In addition, see how the Biblical theme is itself based on the very nature of things.    God was not just the author of the Bible, He was (and is) the creator of the universe. Biblical types then generally play off of the very nature of things. So the first principle of dream interpretation is to be grounded in a Biblical view of the elements of the universe around us.

Not every dream however is replete with Biblical symbols. My friend had a dream last night where he was on an aircraft carrier. You can’t look that up in a dream dictionary. What you can do, however, is use the principles of heremeneutics I learned in Old Testament to decode it.

  1. First, ask what is this fundamentally? Fundamentally it’s a boat. What does a boat do?   It takes you places.   Vehicles often deal with ministries or companies — things that are taking you places in life.
  2. Now what is it specifically?  He could have seen any boat, but he saw and aircraft carrier. Why? What makes this a special kind of boat. Well it’s a vessel of war.  It’s the largest kind of boat. It has thousands of people on it.   Any of one of these could be what is significant in the dream.
  3. How do you know which is important? One of the biggest mistakes in dealing with types is to try to make every aspect of something match something else. You need to ask: What did you see in the dream? What was important about it in the dream?  What you saw is the reason for the usage of that image instead of another one.
  4. Does it have any specific significance to you?  For example if you are in the Navy an aircraft carrier would signify something quite different than if you are not.

See? It’s not spooky.  It is an application of the same principles I learned in OT class.  Now some elements of a dream could be quite difficult. Why the Lord chooses to use such complex symbols to speak to us, we can only guess. It can be both frustrating and fun, like any puzzle. For example, in one of my dreams I was in a plane and we were trying to get to runway 50. Well comparing and contrasting are not going to help figure out what 50 is. Unless 50 has some personal significance, it’s good to look in the Scripture (or a Biblically based dictionary). In this case, I was reminded that 50 was the year of Jubilee. In my case this meaning fit perfectly with our situation. This is an advantage if you are interpreting your own dreams or the dreams of a friend. Like puzzle pieces, you can try out different possibilities until they fit. Now, notice, I’m not saying you can just make anything fit.  If the year of Jubilee didn’t fit my real life I wouldn’t have tried to make it. I would have just left it a mystery.

And that’s part of it too. Dreams can be highly detailed, and some of the details may be hard to decode.  If you can get the main and the plain, you may just have to live with some unsolved mysteries. However, I’ve found with each of my dreams that if I take it before the Lord, it begins to come clear. He may remind me of what was important about the person in the dream, or he may show me something about image that I was missing. For example, my grandmother was flying the plane. Now, the obvious part of this was that my grandmother was not qualified to fly the plane. But that still left the question of why my grandmother and not just a stranger who wasn’t qualified.   When I brought the image before the Lord, He reminded me of the feeling of family comfort I had with my grandmother in the plane. And then I began to see that in the context of the dream my grandmother (who is very old and may not live a lot longer) represented time with my family that I might never get again. When you put the right key into the lock, it turns the door.  It makes sense in the dream, and it makes sense in your life.

Another interesting aspect of dreams is determining when something is literal and when something is symbolic. My wife has appeared in two of the dreams, and when she did, she did not represent “something I was married to.” She was actually herself. However, in the first dream, two of my children appeared, and I believe they represented two ministry associates, not themselves. It’s easy to see why now that you cannot correctly interpret a dream without the Spirit of the Lord.

This leads to my final point about dreams.When God sends you a dream, it’s because He loves you.  Reaching out to communicate with you is a significant act of love (the wives all said Amen). Getting the correct interpretation has to be premised on this fact. If you think you are being told the thing that you fear most then you probably had a dream from God that the enemy is trying to interpret for you.  Even if the dream has something cautionary in it, if it’s from God it’s there to help you, or help you help someone else. I know that I have a way of turning a blessing into a warning.  Assume the best instead of the worst. Jackson’s school of thinking even says that all three kinds of dreams — those from God, those from the devil (nightmares), and those from the flesh — can be used in a Godly way.  Those from the devil reveal a plan he has against you, those from the flesh reveal the true state of your heart.    Now that is redemptive.

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