John Ecob 

WHEN WE READ a book we endeavour  to understand what the author intended  by the words he uses and the manner  in which he expresses them. In this way we learn the message the author  sought to convey. Words are the  vehicles for thoughts just as numbers  are the elements of mathematics. 

But when it comes to the Bible it seems  theologians have decided that the  Bible must be interpreted differently.  Instead of adopting the literal sense of the words of Scripture they interpret its words according to their preconceived  theological views. 

Some theologians of the modernist ilk  approach the Bible as literature with  no greater authority than any fallible  writing and treat the Bible equally to the writings of any Tom, Dick or Harry. 

But other theologians place Scripture  on a higher plane than human literature  and believe it conveys the Word of  God. Therefore it must be interpreted  differently however they come from  various backgrounds and instead  of going to the Bible with an open  mind seeking to be led wherever the  Scripture leads them, they spend all  their time endeavouring to fit the Bible  into the mould of their preconceptions  in order to support their theological  position. 

This is exactly the position in which the  Reformers found themselves. 

Before the Reformation the Catholic  Church dominated the world and tradition had replaced Scripture.  From time to time voices were raised  demanding a return to Scripture but  much of the Church’s doctrine was  established from tradition. 

In 1517 Luther began a movement that  restored the Bible to its rightful place  and, aided by the invention of the  printing press, the Bible finally got into  the hands of the people. Men could  decide what the Bible taught without  having to believe the traditions of the  Church. This was a massive change that  led to an upheaval among Christians.  The plowboy could now question  the priest and what was decided  depended on HOW they interpreted  the text of Scripture. The Catholic  priest interpreted Scripture according  to the traditions of the Church and  what “infallible” popes had decreed  while Reformed priests interpreted  the Bible according to the writings of  the Reformers. What Luther and Calvin  wrote was quoted and considered the  correct interpretation. 

To their credit the Reformers respected  the inspiration of the Word of God and  searched the Bible chapter by chapter  seeking to fit the Church and the  Christians into every part of scripture.  

But they interpreted Scripture in the  context of their day. 

In their day the Jews were despised  and antisemitism ran high. The Jews  had crucified Christ and rejected Him  as their Messiah. God had sent the  Romans to destroy Jerusalem and the  Church had replaced Israel. So it was  natural to suppose that the scriptures  written to Israel must be applied to the  Church. Since they believed in the  inspiration of the Bible and God’s Word  could never pass away, then what was  written to Israel in the Old Testament must now apply to the Church.  Prophecies of future blessing and a  millennial kingdom must therefore be  spiritualized and applied to the Church. 

To take the prophecies in the Old  Testament literally would require the  Church to be replaced by Israel in the  last days but how could this be? The  prevailing view was that God had  finished with the Jews and for centuries  Jews had refused to even acknowlege  Jesus as Messiah. 

It was a major step forward that the  Reformers adopted Biblical authority  and that they began to understand that  salvation was by grace through faith  but sadly they continued to practice  much of Catholic doctrine. They held: 

  1. A General resurrection 
  2. Christening of babies 
  3. Replacement theology (antisemitic) 4. A priestly system 
  4. Union of Church and State 

So strongly did Reformers hold to these  Romish doctrines that they persecuted  Anna-Baptists and anybody else  who deviated from them. Since the  Reformation had political support  they usee the justice system to arrest,  torture and burn dissenters. They  destroyed synagogues and drove Jews  out of cities. 

Yet at the same time these men  claimed to believe Sola Scriptura or  the Bible alone! The only way they  could reconcile their stand on the  Bible and their unBiblical behaviour  was by the way they interpretated the  Bible. While asserting the absolute  authority of Scripture they interpreted  it in the context of their wrong doctrine.  They made the Bible fit their doctrines instead of their doctrines fit Scripture  and to do this they has to “spiritualize”  the Bible. When they read the Bible  they looked for a secondary meanings  of words. They could not accept the  straight-forward literal exegesis of the  text of scripture in its historical context. 

The inspired record of holy Scripture  was given to Jewish prophets, “holy  men of God were moved by the Holy  Ghost” (2Pet.1:21) to write down in God 

chosen words the Word of God. The Old  Testament was given almost entirely  in Hebrew and the New Testament in  common (koine) Greek. 

The original text has been Divinely  preserved in the Massoretic Text of the  Old Testament and the Received Text  of the New Testament. Translations  are available from these manuscripts  and it is our responsibility to meditate  in God’s Word daily and to interpret  literally all that God has said. 

A good principle to adopt is:  

When the plain sense makes  common sense, seek no other  sense. 

Fortunately we, who speak English, are  able to check the original languages  using the Strong’s Concordance and  Dictionary. Other languages don’t  have that advantage but we will need a  King James Version Bible to access the  Concordance. 

An accurate understanding of the  Word of God is what every Christian  should strive for. We are to prove all  things; hold fast that which is good”  (1Thess.5:21) and, 

“Study to shew thyself approved unto  God, a workman that needeth not  to be ashamed, rightly dividing the  word of truth. But shun profane and 

vain babblings…” (2Tim.2:15-16) Where Spiritualizing Leads 

Recently I decided to check my  Barne’s Commentary of the Book of  Isaiah. Barnes published his lengthy  notes in 1838 and along with many  commentaries he spiritualizes the  scriptures that tell of Israel’s restoration  and blessing in the millennial kingdom  of Christ. I particularly wondered how  he would handle the latter chapters of  Isaiah’s prophecy from chapter 60 to  66 which predominently feature the  kingdom of God on earth after the Lord  returns to reign. I was amazed. 

Isaiah ch.60 tells of the return of the  Jews to the land after the Lord reigns  and describes how Israel will be at the  head of the nations. We read: 

“The Gentiles shall come to thy  (Israel’s) light…” “All they from Sheba  shall come: they shall bring gold and  incense: they shall show forth the  praises of the LORD… ” (Isa.60:3,6). 

Antisemitism will end and Israel will  be a Godly nation fitted to lead the  nations. The Gentiles that survive the  Tribulation will be Godly also and will  respect the Jews as God’s chosen race  to bring salvation to mankind. They will  assist the Jews to return to the land and  we read  

“the ships of Tarshish first, to bring  thy sons from far, their silver and their  gold with them, unto the name of the  LORD” (Isa.60:9). 

So great will be the wealth heaped  upon the Jews by believing Gentiles  that God says: 

For brass I will bring gold, and for  iron I will bring silver, and for wood  brass, and for stones iron: I will also  make thy officers peace, and thine  exactors righteousness. Violence  

shall no more be heard in thy  land…”(Isa.60:17-18). 

These scriptures plainly speak of  incredible material blessing heaped  upon Israel when they turn to the  Lord and return to the land God gave  to Abraham. How did the reformers  spiritualize these promises? They  applied them to the Church! Barnes  writes: 

“The sense is, that the wealth of the  heathen world would be consecrated  to the service of the church”. And  again: “her merchandise and wealth  would become tributary to the  church of God” (p.360). 

To excuse his wrong interpretation he  states: 

“It is by no means necessary to  understand this literally” (P.362). 

Such an interpretation flies in the face  of every scripture about the Church of  Jesus Christ. The Church is a heavenly  body of believers not a wealthy  organization. The early Christians  had no cathedrals; they met in houses  and preached in the market place or  wherever opportunity presented itself.  God made Abram rich (Gen.13:2) so  much so that he refused the wealth of  Sodom (Gen.14:23) but he was the father  of a nation in a different dispensation

David and Solomon were exceedingly  rich but they were kings on the throne  of David! And Israel will again have  heaped upon her all the riches of the  Gentiles in the millennial kingdom. 

Today it is apostate Charismatic  preachers who preach a Prosperity  Gospel and fleece their people to  live in luxury while Hebrews 11:37  speaks of true believers wandering  in “sheepskins and goatskins”! The Apostle Paul wrote: 

“ye see your calling, brethren, how  that not many wise men after the  flesh, not many mighty, not many  noble, are called” (1Cor.1:26). 

It is a fundamental teaching in the New  Testament that church and state are  separate. Civil powers have never been  given to the Church yet the Catholic  Church has exercised civil authority to  persecute believers and the Reformers  continued the same practice. 

In reading Isaiah 60:12 I wondered how  Barnes would spiritualize it. The verse  reads: 

“For the nation and kingdom that will  not serve thee (Israel) shall perish;  yea, those nations shall be utterly  wasted” (Isa.60:12). 

The literal understanding of this verse is  obvious. In the coming kingdom Israel  will reign supreme over the nations  with Christ as King of kings. Zechariah  wrote: 

“And the LORD shall be king over  all the earth: in that day shall there  be one LORD, and his name one”  (Zech.14:9). 

and Isaiah states: 

“the moon shall be confounded, and  the sun ashamed, when 

the LORD of hosts shall reign in  mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously”  (Isa.24:23). 

Yet by spiritualizing this verse men  could justify antisemitism and capital  punishment for anybody who fails to  obey the church! And that was exactly  what happened during the Reformation! 

Christians are to be “subject unto the  higher powers” (Rom.13:1) while ever  those powers do not demand things  contrary to the will of God as revealed  in His Word. 

Peter was told to put away his sword  but when Reformers and Catholics  spiritualize Isa.60:12 they compel  people to comply with their wrong  teaching and become transgressors. 

Finally I wondered how Barnes would  spiritualize Isaiah 60:8-9 which  describes the return of the Jews to the  land when Christ returns. 

“Who are these that fly as a cloud,  and as the doves to their windows?  Surely the isles shall wait for me, and  the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy  sons from far” (Isa.60:8-9).  

The literal interpretation is obvious.  Some Jews will fly back to the land  of Israel and some will come by ships  but Barnes sees it as a description of  the heathen flocking into the church!  He likens a “multitude of persons to a  cloud”. According to his interpretation  we can expect the end of the age to  conclude with all the heathen turning  to Christ and the wealth of the heathen  nations pouring into the coffers of the  church which is exactly the opposite to  what the Bible teaches. Paul states: 

“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly,  that in the latter times some shall  depart from the faith, giving heed  to seducing spirits, and doctrines of  devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy”  (1Tim.4:1-2). 

The whole concept of a world-wide  revival in the last days runs contrary to  everything Jesus and the Apostles ever  taught but by spiritualizing what clearly  was written to Israel in a literal sense  the opposite is taught.  

We are to neither add to, nor take from,  the words of the Bible. Those who do  place themselves under the judgment  of God. (Rev.22:18-19).