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:
- A General resurrection
- Christening of babies
- Replacement theology (antisemitic) 4. A priestly system
- 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).