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Toppling Literalists

Responding to Ron Rhodes’ The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy

Debate 1: Ron Rhodes asks, “Should Bible Prophecy Be Interpreted Literally or Allegorically?”

  • Part 1. The Hermeneutics of Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical?

Knocking Down False Views

This serves as the first in a series of responses to the debates put forward by Ron Rhodes in his book, The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy. The book is really just a platform for promoting Rhodes’ end-time views which I plan to debunk as I to respond to each debate with the truth of Scripture. My posts will not be exhaustive responses to the questions raised in the book, yet they will be enough to hopefully keep many from the false end-time beliefs associated with Rhodes’ views and lead them to enjoy the liberty that comes from understanding God’s word.

Straw man Leverage

Firstly, the question “Should Bible Prophecy Be Interpreted Literally or Allegorically?” creates false leverage in order to discredit allegorical interpretations of certain Bible prophecies that don’t fit with Ron Rhodes’ preferred literal interpretations. It creates the assumption that all Bible prophecy must be viewed through only one lens of interpretation and the straw man that those who view certain prophecies allegorically do so for all prophecies. This is of course not true.

A better question would have been, “Should Bible prophesy always be interpreted literally?” This would have avoided the implied premise that one interpretation method is always correct and in turn have avoided the unfair straw man created by such a dichotomy.

Ron Rhodes further entrenches this straw man argument by citing prophecies where the literal interpretation has clearly been fulfilled in order to use these as proofs that this approach is the only option for prophecy. However, this is as flawed as saying that the night sky is full of bright stars; therefore, everything bright in the night sky is a star.

Literal unless Indicated

I agree with Ron Rhodes that the literal interpretative method has proven to be the best starting point when approaching Scripture. Regarding this he says, “A literal approach allows for allegorical or symbolic meanings when indicated in the context, as is often the case in such apocalyptic literature as the books of Daniel and Revelation.” However, where we disagree is the extent to which “allegorical or symbolic” has been “indicated in the context”, including in certain prophecies.

Firstly, let me point out that by simply citing Revelation as an example of apocalyptic literature that contains allegorical meanings, Rhodes disproves his notion that a literal interpretation is required when interpreting prophecy, because Revelation is prophecy. So, clearly, the issue appears to be identifying where a book is to be understood allegorically and not whether or not prophecy can be interpreted allegorically or not.

Consistency of Interpretation

Secondly, when interpreting Revelation, Rhodes is far more selective in his use of allegorical interpretation than what I believe the text demands. For consistency in interpreting Revelation, a book loaded with symbolism, why would the “7 spirits of God” in Revelation 1:4 be allegorically representative of the Holy Spirit while the “1000 year reign” in Chapter 20 be literal?

On what basis would the number “7” associated with the term “spirits of God” be clearly understood as allegorical and yet the number “1000” associated with the term “years” be understood as literal? What of the 24 elders, the 12000 stadia, the 144000 people, etc.?

Explaining the 1000 year Reign of Christ

In the Bible numerology is commonly used to depict meaning. Certain numbers had certain connotations. For example 12 could allude to the tribes of Israel, or to the apostles, 3 to the Trinity, 7 to qualitative fullness associated with God and creation and 10 was understood as quantitative fullness. Therefore, with 10 meaning quantitative fullness and 3 as the number of God, 1000, which is 10 x 10 x 10 or 103, would symbolically represent the fullness of time that God has determined rather than a literal 1000 years.

In apocalyptic literature, if the author has clearly used numerology, especially in his first use of a number, as John did with “the 7 spirits of God”, then that is an indication that numerology should be considered when other numbers present themselves. This is especially true if the numbers that are used are consistently distinctively Biblical like 3, 6, 7, 10 or 12. Finally, if in applying consistency of interpretation and numerological meaning to the numbers we find that this leads to real meaning that is in line with Biblical truth, then it is unlikely that we have stumbled upon chance. This final point is consistently true of every number found in Revelation and, because there are so many, chance is eliminated. Revelation proves that its numbers are to be allegorically understood.

Some Dare not See

I suggest that Rhodes’ bias, tied to his end-time belief in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ, makes him unable or unwilling to see the “allegorical” clearly “indicated” around the numbers used in Revelation. Sadly, instead of using Revelation’s own cues, Rhodes misses the use of numerology throughout and, as a result, the real meaning behind the numbers.

I believe that Rhodes and other premillennialists are forced to turn a blind eye to the allegory in order to maintain a belief system that is interlinked with other fallacies. However, by doing this they have clearly moved away from Scripture, preferring a popular, but flawed interpretation. Rhodes created this first debate in order to champion this view, unaware that his own concession to the “allegorical or symbolic when indicated in the context” is this view’s undoing.

Click here for Numerology in The Revelation.

Rob Morley