One of the greatest challenges we face in our witnessing is the “spiritualizing” of the Scriptures that is so prevalent today. It is one of the primary methods used to negate clear Biblical teaching and concepts. Quite obviously, however, they are not able to “spiritualize” everything, since much in the Bible is evidently literal and actual. Christ, His Apostles, and the land of Palestine are examples of subjects that cannot easily be eviscerated into a spiritual cloud! As such, it is applied irregularly, whenever its proponent wishes to evade Biblical facts and evidence.
As a good example of this, years ago I read an article about Israel in prophecy in a Christian denominational magazine, and wrote a letter to the editor questioning several statements made. In reply, I received a short note stating that some of the promises to Israel were literal for the Jews, others were spiritual for the Church, and it was up to their governing council to decide which promises belonged to each of them!
The word, spiritualize, itself is an unfortunate misnomer, since it has nothing to do with either the Holy Spirit or man’s spirit. A more accurate term for this might be “allegorizing” or “metaphorizing.” An allegory is defined by Wikipedia dictionary as “a rhetorical device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. …An allegory conveys its hidden message through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, and/or events. Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric; a rhetorical allegory is a demonstrative form of representation conveying meaning other than the words that are spoken.”
Therefore, an allegorical interpretation of Israel’s covenant promises could say that Abraham’s “many nations” of prophecy (Gen. 17:5-6) is really speaking instead of the Church, and the “nations” are not nations at all! They interpret it as a mere “form of representation” and that the true understanding of the passage requires a “meaning other than the words that are spoken.”
A serious problem with this system of interpretation is that actual words can be taken to mean virtually anything that the proponent wishes. As an example, the Christian Science denomination teaches that the “land of nod” where Cain migrated in Genesis 4:16 is simply an allegory for sleep, and not an actual place. After all, if it is really only an allegory, why not?
Another definition says that, “Allegory is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy. Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.”
A true allegory or “extended metaphor” therefore has two actual meanings: literal and symbolic. The problem with many of our Christian allegorists is that they reject entirely the literal meaning and ascribe the symbolic meaning as exclusive. You will notice that when critics of British-Israel accuse us of “an ultra-literal interpretation of Scripture,” they are really saying that they completely reject the literal, actual meaning of the words used in the text. Throwing words such as “ultra” at us is simply obfuscation. It is not allegorical, but agnostical, an agnostic refusal to believe in the plain words of the text! In believing the words of Scripture, we are not being “ultra-literal” or “extreme literal,” we are simply being honest with God’s Word! Our critics’ argument is actually an “extreme denial” of the plain Words of Scripture.
Grammarian Richard Nordquist more precisely says that allegory is, “The rhetorical strategy of extending a metaphor through an entire narrative so that objects, persons, and actions in the text are equated with meanings that lie outside the text. One of the most famous allegories in English is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), a tale of Christian salvation. Modern allegories include the films The Seventh Seal (1957) and Avatar (2009) as well as the novels Animal Farm (1945) and The Lord of the Flies (1954).”
Allegory is in fact a legitimate literary device. The Bible uses it in several places to teach a moral or historical lesson. For example, the parable of the trees of the field in Ezekiel 17:22-24 was an allegory with a historical fulfillment that occurred during the time of Israel’s king Zedekiah. However, a veiled allegorical depiction of the trees of the field is vastly different from God’s clear literal proclamation to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. There is no question that Biblical allegory is a much-misused subject today.
Another literary device is the metaphor, defined as “a figure of speech which makes an implicit, implied or hidden comparison between two things or objects that are poles apart from each other but have some characteristics common between them.” A good example of this is the applying of Israel’s promises to the Church. No honest Bible reader would consider the patriarch Abraham as a mere Scripture metaphor, yet strangely, the promises he received are often considered just that.
While in England this past summer, I arranged to meet in London with a British-Israel believer’s Methodist minister. The parishioner had been trying to convince his cleric of the truth about what we teach, and earnestly gave him an apparently large amount of British-Israel literature in the attempt. The cleric, however, was convinced that the promises to Israel were all spiritual and belonged to the Church, and asked me what the “benefit” of my literal interpretation could possibly be. An obvious answer to that is Biblical accuracy! However, there are other benefits as well.
I explained how there have been many examples through the years of atheists that have been brought to Christian belief through the British-Israel message and its demonstration of the literal fulfillment of numerous prophecies in the European peoples of today. Conversely, people brought up in the faith have sometimes fallen away into agnosticism when realizing that the Jews have not fulfilled the bulk of the Abrahamic covenant promises. A good example was the late nineteenth century atheist, Robert Green Ingersoll, a man raised in a Christian home as the son of a Methodist minister, yet fell away and spent his entire adult life attacking the Christian faith.
However, none of this mattered to the spiritualized cleric. He stated that the proper way to demonstrate the truth of God’s Word is to look at creation itself in all of its myriad and varied forms. How could this have all happened without God, he asked? While I can certainly agree with his view of a Divine Creator instead of evolution, his argument was really based more on philosophy than provable fact. Yes, it would seem to require a Creator to account for the wonders of creation, but instead the faith of many today is regularly undermined by the secularists digging up bones supposedly millions of years older than Adam. The spiritualizers thus completely ignore, and in fact adamantly deny, a more sure proof of the accuracy of the Bible.
I pressed him further. If the Abrahamic promises are all spiritual, then who should own Palestine today? He gave a wide assured smile and said, “It doesn’t matter!” Herein perhaps is the greatest failure of the allegorizers and their system—they cannot face and answer the pressing problems of the day because their system is limited and bounded by the spiritual arena, not life and issues here on literal earth. In many ways, it is escapism, an escape from the reality of God’s Word and its true fulfillment on earth today.
You may find a more complete discussion of problems with the spiritual interpretation of Scripture in the article, “Did God Deceive Abraham?” on the research page of the CBIA website, www.israelite.ca. May we bring such spiritual escapists back to earthly reality!