Literal Interpretation of Scripture

Fiddler on the Roof is a musical whose story centers on a Jewish father who is living in Tsarist Russia back in 1905. He has several daughters and is trying to fight off an onslaught of outside influences, while maintaining his families Jewish traditions. One song in the musical has everyone in the family basically asking themselves why on earth they do exactly what they do each and every day, and their answer to the question is then loudly sung back:

“Tradition! Tradition!”

Is anything more impregnable and unshakable then a long-held man-made tradition? Usually, the older a person get’s the more they become immovable in their positions and beliefs. Christians are no exception to the rule. Traditions are a blessing and a curse. While traditions can help keep a Christian denomination firmly entrenched in many sound Biblical doctrines and help unite a congregation, they can also stunt the growth of its members by keeping them ensnared in some blatantly un-scriptural interpretations. I’m not talking about little frivolous stuff like whether a church has communion once a week, or once a year, or when and how a baptism should be performed, or whether a church worships on Saturday or Sunday. Rather, I am talking about problems which have for centuries caused massive misinterpretation of scripture.

I always follow a simple rule when reading the Bible and it has kept me out of all sorts of trouble:

“If the plain sense makes sense, don’t look for any other sense, else all you will come up with is utter non-sense!”

Unfortunately, a major long-held traditional Christian belief is the need to allegorize or spiritualize the meaning of scripture to make specific chapters and verses mean what they clearly do not say. By allegorizing scripture, anyone can make any passage in the entire Bible mean anything they want. The apostles certainly never believed in allegorizing scripture. When they quoted scripture and explained it, they never twisted or distorted the literal plain sense meaning of the words. Clement of Alexandria and his student Origen (on the other hand) started the whole allegorical interpretation mess back in the 2nd and 3rd century. It then went mainstream, when Augustine’s views of end-time events were adopted by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. and it become the official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church ever since.

Unfortunately, the Protestant reformation did nothing to fix this egregious theological error. But I admit, that is sort of understandable. You see, Martin Luther and his entire culture at that time were wildly anti-Semitic. Jews were forcibly expelled from Austria in 1421, from Spain in 1492, from Lithuania in 1495, and from Portugal in 1497. Martin Luther was a great man to be sure, but he was a fallible man, and his very outspoken hatred of the Jews in his writings (which the Germans absolutely loved), helped fan the flames of anti-Semitism throughout much of Europe. This same German anti-Semitism ultimately gave rise to Adolf Hitler.

The tradition of allegorizing and spiritualizing scripture has been done for so long now, that most Christians today believe that most of the events recorded in the book of Revelation occurred in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem, that the specific covenants made to the descendents of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob now belong to the Church, that God has wiped his hands of the Jews, that the modern state of Israel is a fluke, that Jesus will not reign in Jerusalem on the throne of David, and that He will certainly not have a literal thousand year reign on earth. Some even go so far as to believe that we are currently living in the millennial kingdom (Man, ain’t it great?! Someone, please go tell Satan!). To come to all these remarkable conclusions, I estimate at least 20% of the Bible has to be deliberately spiritualized, allegorized, ignored, or discarded.

Hank Hanegraaff (also known as the Bible Answer Man) is a good example of a modern theologian who clings doggedly to the end-time interpretations of Augustine. Here is a quote by him concerning his views on the modern state of Israel:

“While one might well defend the right of the secular state of Israel to exist, the contention that the modern state of Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy is indefensible. In truth, since coming under the exclusive control of modern Israel, Jerusalem has demonstrated a far greater resemblance to the harlot city spoken of by the prophets than to the holy city spoken of by the psalmists.” – The Apocalypse Code, page 197.

That sort of venom comes from long-held Christian “tradition” rather then simply reading what the Bible actually says concerning the subject. Hank Hanegraaff usually holds to sound doctrine. I enjoyed his book entitled: “The Complete Bible Answer Book” (for the most part), but his beliefs concerning the Second Coming, Israel, the Jews, the millennial kingdom, etc. are frankly terrible. Good luck straightening him out though, because it’s:

“Tradition! Tradition!”

If one studies the 300+ Old Testament prophecies which were literally fulfilled by Jesus Christ during His First Coming, no allegorizing or spiritualizing of scripture is necessary. For example read Psalm 22:16-18 which was penned 1,000 years before Jesus was born and 700 years before the Romans perfected crucifixion:

…They pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me;
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.

Is that hard to understand? Not at all. It says exactly what it means. It even makes more sense once you understand the history of Roman crucifixion. The condemned was stripped naked, and according to 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus: “they were whipped with rods and their bodies were torn to pieces, and were crucified, while they were still alive, and breathed.” – Antiquities of the Jews Book 12: Chapter 5:4

The “rods” Josephus is referring to is a Roman Flagrum which was a kind of whip designed to quickly tear the flesh right off a person, yet leave the victim alive. Some say the movie: “The Passion of the Christ” was too violent. Well, not according to the history books. Jesus was beaten to a pulp, humiliated, scourged, stripped naked, nailed to a cross, stared at by a crowd, and the Roman guards cast lots to divide His clothes, exactly as prophesied in the Bible.

That is literal Bible prophecy in action. The Second Coming prophecies and those concerning the last days, tribulation, and millennial kingdom are no different. Most are very straight forward and so simple a child can easily understand them. Symbols are sometimes used like in the Book of Revelation, but they are often clearly defined later in the very same book just like they are in Daniel. Certainly no allegorizing and spiritualizing is required. Let’s look at a prophecy that concerns Israel and the Day of the Lord:

For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city. Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. – Zechariah 14:2-4

This event has obviously not occurred yet. Unless, of course the reader changes the plain sense meaning of the words. Jesus certainly did not gather “all” nations against Jerusalem for battle in 70A.D. when Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans. Jesus also did not stand on the Mount of Olives splitting it in half, or fight against the nations. That is because it will literally happen in the future during the seven year tribulation period when all the nations of the earth (that are left) will literally turn on the modern state of Israel and attack Jerusalem. Then Jesus will physically return upon the Mount of Olives in front of Jerusalem and save Israel from destruction. How Jesus instantly wipes out His enemies is recorded in Zechariah 14:12:

Now this will be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples who have gone to war against Jerusalem; their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth.

Jesus may have died as a sacrificial lamb, but He will return as a conquering King! The New Testament describes it this way:

…the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; – 2 Thessalonians 2:8

Wow!!! The prophet Isaiah also confirms this:

…And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
slay with the breath of His mouth – Isaiah 11:4

But, why does Jesus bother to save Israel? They do not seem very holy and most Jews reject Christ? It is because God is gracious, greatly loves Abraham’s descendants, and because  God is going to keep the “everlasting” covenant that He made to Abraham and his descendants. God said to Abraham:

I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. – Genesis 17:7

There were many conditions God demanded of the Israelites. For instance, if Israel severely disobeyed God, Moses warned that they would be scattered to the ends of the earth (Deuteronomy 28:64). In fact, Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1 told the Israelites that they would indeed at some later date rebel and God would have to scatter them to the ends of the earth (which was literally fulfilled in the 1st century A.D. by the Romans), but Moses also wrote that God would bring them back to the land (Deuteronomy 30:3-5).

Ezekiel 36 and 37 explains in detail why Israel once again became a nation in 1948 and why the Jews are currently being regathered out of the nations after almost 1,900 years of dispersion. It has nothing whatsoever to do with what the Jews have “done” to earn their way back to the land, but rather it concerns God’s holy name and what He has always planned to “do” for the Israelites:

But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36:21-28

Moses also promised that God would change their hearts after they were regathered from the nations:

The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. – Deuteronomy 30:5-6

Jesus himself is going to open the eyes of His brothers the Israelites in the Last Days:

And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. – Zechariah 12:9-10

The Apostle Paul also confirmed this:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved;… – Romans 11: 25-26

God has a very special plan lined up for the modern state of Israel in the future. But, the “traditional” view holds that that since the Jews rejected the Messiah, God’s eternal covenants to the Israelites are now null and void or have been given to the Church. Concerning this very issue the Apostle Paul wrote: “May it never be!” – Romans 11:1

Whole chapters like Romans 9, 10, and 11 deal with this specific topic. But, the Church has by and large spiritualized these chapters into complete non-sense. When you read the word “Israel” in the Bible it is referring to “Israel” and when the Bible mentions “Jews” it is referring to “Jews”. No spiritualizing is required to understand scripture. According to the Bible, the nation of Israel will be a nation before God forever. The sun, moon, and stars would have to cease from existence before Israel will cease to be a nation before God:

Thus says the LORD,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The LORD of hosts is His name:
“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the LORD,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.” – Jeremiah 31:35-36

The Apostle Paul also affirms that the eternal promises and covenants to the Israelites are still in effect:

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, – Romans 9:1-4

Paul also writes that God still loves Israel and that His promises are irrevocable:

From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. – Romans 11:28-29

So, let’s stop playing games with scripture and pray for the peace of Jerusalem, bless Israel, bless the Jewish people who are currently surrounded by openly hostile Islamic fanatics and dictators, and take a stand with God and upon His divinely inspired Word. There is a great blessing in doing so. God said to Abraham:

And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. – Genesis 12:3

Have a blessed day!

Sean Kirkpatrick

Sean Kirkpatrick posted at 2011-9-13 Category: Apostasy