Should prophecy be interpreted literally or allegorically?
On our television program Christ in Prophecy, we asked this question of Dr. Ron Rhodes, the founder and director of a ministry called Reasoning from the Scriptures, located in Frisco, Texas. His ministry specializes in defending Christianity against Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, the cults, world religions, and about any group that teaches false doctrine. He is a seminary professor and an excellent writer who has written more than 70 books! His latest one is titled, The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy.
Ron Rhodes on Biblical Interpretation
There is a reason why I included this as the first topic in my book, because what you believe about this issue will determine where you end up on everything else. If you interpret prophecy literally, you are going to come out in one place. But, if you spiritualize prophecy, you can end up in any number of different places because there is no objective check on that.
My policy is that when the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense, lest you end up in nonsense.
When I follow that policy, there is one inevitable conclusion that I come to. That is, if you want to understand how God is going to fulfill prophecy in the future, take a look at how God has fulfilled prophecy in the past. In the Old Testament we’ve got over 100 Messianic prophecies that foretell the First Coming of Christ, and they were all fulfilled literally. We are talking about the Virgin Birth in Isaiah 7:14. Christ will be born in Bethlehem in Micah 5:2. He will be pierced for our sins in Zechariah 12:10 and Isaiah 53. Descend from the line of Abraham in Genesis 12. On and on I can go. The point is, I believe that the Second Coming prophecies and all the events that lead up to the Second Coming will be just as literal as those that dealt with the First Coming prophecies.
Even if the prophecy is symbolic, it has some literal meaning which often the Bible tells just what the meaning is. For example, if you are reading the book of Revelation, you will encounter symbols. That is common in Apocalyptic literature. But, those symbols are defined either in the immediate context, or in the broader context of the Holy Scripture.
One of my old friends as well as a former teacher at Dallas Seminary used to tell me that if you want to understand the book of Revelation, and you’ve got six months to do it, spend the first three months in the Old Testament. Then spend the last three months in the book of Revelation, because many of the symbols are defined for us in the text.
Jesus took safeguards on making sure that we didn’t misunderstand things. For example, the symbols that are used in the first part of Revelation about the stars in Christ’s hand and the golden lampstands, those are clearly defined for us in the context. The same thing with the book of Daniel as there are some symbols there as well. Those symbols are defined for us within the context itself. That indicates to me that you should always test your interpretation according to the Scriptures.
Don’t read your modern newspaper into the Bible! Your policy is to first understand what the Bible says, and then interpret modern events.
A line I added at the end of this chapter reads, “We cannot expect objective consistency among those who use a subjective methodology.” Meaning, these people who use a spiritualized approach to interpreting the Bible can end up anywhere.