The distortion of biblical prophecy through allegory lies behind much of the doctrinal error that we see in the church today.
If one can interpret prophetic passages of Scripture by applying a meaning foreign to the text, what is to stop others from applying this exact methodology to other portions of Scripture they find objectionable?
The rejection of justification by faith during the Dark Ages did not begin with the allegorizing of relevant passages in Romans and Ephesians. No, it began with Augustine and prophetic texts related to Israel and Jesus’ future millennial reign. He said the idea of a millennium “would not be objectionable” if somehow “the nature of the millennial kingdom was a ‘spiritual one’ rather than a physical one.” [i] Because he found these prophetic passages objectionable to his Plato-inspired view of reality, he attached symbolism to these texts. [ii] The amillennialism that began with Augustine’s objections to the unspiritual nature of the millennium dominated the church for many centuries.
By the time of the Reformation, Catholic theologians had distorted the Gospel using the same allegorical methodology that Augustine applied to prophecy. Both Luther and Calvin recognized the great damage that allegory had done to the purity of the Gospel. Calvin characterized the allegorical interpretation of God’s Word as “satanic” because it led people away from the truth of Scripture. [iii] Luther joined Calvin in firmly denouncing the use of symbolism as a way to interpret God’s Word.
Unfortunately, despite condemning allegorical interpretations of Scripture related to the Gospel, the Reformers failed to apply their convictions to prophetic passages. However, the Sola Scriptura and Scripture-interprets- Scripture principles championed by the Reformers sparked the rise and later dominance of premillennialism.
Dr. William Watson wrote an excellent article that documents how the next generation after the Reformers began applying the Scripture-first emphasis of John Calvin and Martin Luther to prophetic Scripture, and as a result, premillennialism again sprang to life. [iv]
Today, allegorical interpretations of biblical prophecy are again driving the church away from the purity of the Gospel and, in effect, canceling the “blessed hope” of Titus 2:13. In this article, I will address the fallout from allegorizing prophecies that pertain to our glorious hope. In my next post, I will discuss the damage it’s doing to the doctrine of justification.
Peter Warns Us Against Private Interpretations of Biblical Prophecy
Notice the words of the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Just as the prophets of old did not speak from their own understanding, in the same way, we must not apply our own private “interpretations” to what they wrote; we must let the words speak for themselves.
The Greek word for “spoke” in verse 21 is laleo. According to Trench in his book Synonyms of the New Testament, the “prominent notion” of this verb is “the fact of uttering articulated speech… it is the words uttered, and that these correspond to reasonable thoughts….” [v] Biblical prophets, in both the Old and New Testament, expressed truths in words as God moved them through the Holy Spirit (see 2 Tim. 3:16; Proverbs 2:6). They did not speak in riddles or symbols that only the wise among us can discern; no, they spoke God-breathed words that communicated objective truths.
The Lord’s instructions to Jeremiah confirm this emphasis on the place of words in conveying clear and objective realities, “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, / ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth'” (Jer. 1:9).
Of course, God uses symbols and metaphors to communicate His message to us; however, much of biblical prophecy comes to us in the form of objective statements in which the author’s intent is clear. It’s when teachers and pastors apply allegorical interpretations to the latter that they lead people away from the truth of God’s Word with their “private” interpretations that do not relate to the words on the page.
The apostasy of the Dark Ages began with Augustine’s disdain for the unspiritual nature of the millennium and his use of allegory to change passages regarding Jesus’ future reign to something more agreeable with his human reasoning. Today, we see history repeating itself at an alarming rate.
False Teachings that Spring from Amillennialism
Much doctrinal error springs from allegorical interpretations of biblical prophecy that retrofit prophetic texts with meanings foreign to the writers of Scripture at the time they wrote. Below, I list a couple of examples of popular false teachings that cancel our hope in Jesus’ soon appearing and our reign with Him during the millennium.
Preterism starts with amillennialism and further compounds this error by claiming that Jesus returned to earth in 70 AD. Preterists claim that Jesus fulfilled all remaining biblical prophecy with His late first century AD appearance. The extreme form of Preterism regards our current existence as the eternal state. The milder expression of this false teaching regards some portions of Revelation 21-22 as still future.
A second false teaching that arises from the allegorization of prophecies related to Israel is that of Dominion Theology. Those who hold to this view compound the error of allegorizing prophecy by adding new apostles and prophets that they claim receive new revelation. These new messages state that the church will someday triumph and bring about the millennium before the Lord Jesus returns.
Once one dismisses the objective prophecies of Scripture regarding Israel’s future and Jesus’ millennial reign, one’s interpretation of future events becomes just as good as another. But the slide away from biblical truth does not stop with matters that pertain to our “blessed hope.”
The Error Spreads Beyond Future Things
The church in the United Kingdom exemplifies how amillennialism morphs into further and even more serious error over time. Many leaders and pastors in the Church of England have long since abandoned premillennialism in favor of doctrines that deny the future restoration of Israel as well as the prophetic significance of her existence today. A pastor once used the departure from premillennialism in the UK as the reason why I should do the same and adopt his view of amillennialism.
During January of 2020, churches in Scotland and England disinvited Franklin Graham to speak because of his views on the LBGTQ agenda. According to news reports that I read at the time, Bryan Kerr, a Church of Scotland pastor in Lanark, said this, “Franklin Graham isn’t the voice of Christianity.” [vi] The path to such a blatant disregard for scriptural standards began with amillennialism, which many decades later morphed into the assertion that Franklin Graham did not represent valid Christian beliefs.
Please know that I am not saying that all doctrinal error and twisting of Scripture stem from amillennialism and the use of allegory. What I am saying is that once one teaches that objective statements regarding the future of Israel and the millennium do not really mean what the words say, it opens up other passages of the Bible to one’s own interpretation as a way to make them less objectionable to the pastor or teacher.
Is that not the path that started Augustine on his disastrous denial of premillennialism? He found passages related to the millennium offensive and sought a way to change their meaning.
I know amillennialists will attack me for stating that their rejection of Jesus’ millennial reign over a gloriously restored Israel in effect cancels our “blessed hope.” I realize they apply these same words to the distant end-of-the-age return of Jesus, at which time He establishes the eternal state. In their eyes, they and the other viewpoints that spring from amillennialism do not diminish this hope.
However, for me, the “blessed hope” of Titus 2:13 consists of the imminent “appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Once someone takes away this eager expectation along with our future anticipation of reigning with Jesus during the millennium, I believe they have already erased key aspects of our glorious Gospel hope.
I believe the rapture represents our “blessed hope,” or at least the start of it. The New Testament expectation is Jesus’ imminent appearing and the glorious new bodies He will give us at that time. For me, doctrines that erase our eager anticipation of Christ’s soon appearing leave us looking for hope in temporal matters.
But there’s a much more serious issue with those who allegorize the words of biblical prophecy.
Today, we see this practice also extending to other passages that pastors find objectionable. Not only are a great many churches drifting away from beliefs in the rapture, millennial reign of Jesus, and our hope of dwelling in the New Jerusalem, but they are also following the trend that occurred during the Dark Ages. They are also moving away from the firm foundation of Justification by faith alone, and in the case of many other churches, they are abandoning the clear teachings of God’s Word.
I will have more to say about this in my next post. Stay tuned!
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[i] Allen, D. Matthew, Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology, A paper published on the Bible.org website, Chapter Five
[ii] Williams, Thomas, Augustine and the Platonists, A lecture given to the Freshman Program of Christ College, the Honors College of Valparaiso University, 23 October 2003
[iii] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1970), p. 58.
[iv] William Watson, The Rise of Philo-Semitism and Premillennialism During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, on the Pre-Tribulation Research Center website @ https://www.pre-trib.org/articles/all-articles
[v] Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), p. 287).
[vi] Taken from news accounts during the time the churches in the UK refused to let Franklin Graham speak.