Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical

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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 is the first of my responses to a series of debates put forward by Ron Rhodes in his book, The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy. His book is really just a platform for promoting his end-time views, which I plan to debunk as I respond to each debate with the truth of Scripture. My responses will not be exhaustive concerning 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 the joy that comes from understanding God’s word.

Straw Man Leverage

As I see it, Rhodes’ first debate question, ‘Should Bible prophecy be interpreted literally or allegorically?’ a creates false leverage in order to discredit allegorical interpretations of certain Bible prophecies that don’t fit with his preferred literal interpretations. It suggests a false notion that all Bible prophecy must be viewed through only one lens of interpretation as well as the straw man that those who view certain prophecies allegorically do so for all prophecies, which is of course not true.

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

Ron Rhodes further entrenches his argument by citing prophecies where the literal interpretation has clearly been fulfilled, using 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, when Rhodes cites Revelation as an example of apocalyptic literature containing allegorical meanings, he disproves his own notion that a literal interpretation is required when interpreting prophecy, because Revelation is prophecy. Clearly, the issue is not whether prophecy can be interpreted allegorically or not, but identifying when prophecy is intended to be understood allegorically.

Consistency of Interpretation

Secondly, when interpreting Revelation, Rhodes is far more selective in his use of allegorical interpretation than I believe the text demands. For example, to be consistent when interpreting Revelation, a book loaded with symbolism, why would the ‘7 spirits of God’ (Rev. 1:4) allegorically represent the Holy Spirit while the reign of a ‘thousand years’ (Rev. 20) be literal? On what basis would the number ‘7,’ associated with the term ‘spirits of God,’ be allegorical and, yet, the number ‘1,000,’ associated with the term ‘years,’ be literal? And, what of the 24 elders, the 12,000 stadia, the 144,000 redeemed, etc.?

Explaining the 1,000 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 the number of God, in a book full of symbolism, 1,000, which is 10 x 10 x 10 or 103, symbolically represents the fullness of time that God has determined rather than a literal 1,000 years.

If, in apocalyptic literature, the author has clearly used numerology, especially in his first use of a number as John did with ‘the 7 spirits of God’, then surely that is an indication that numerology should be considered when other numbers present themselves. This is also all the more likely if the numbers are consistently seen to be distinctively biblical numbers, like 3, 6, 7, 10 or 12. (See “Numerology in Revelation” in Appendix.)

Furthermore, if we find biblical meaning in the context by using the numerological meaning of the numbers, and especially if it lines up with established biblical truth, then it is unlikely that we have stumbled upon chance interpretation. And, this is consistently true of all the numbers found in Revelation. Moreover, the sheer quantity of numbers that are used in the book of Revelation makes the chance of allegory being incorrect, ludicrous. Clearly, the book of Revelation, which is a prophecy, demands that its numbers be allegorically understood.

Some Dare Not See

Sadly, instead of using Revelation’s own cues, Rhodes misses the use of numerology throughout the book and, as a result, the real meaning behind the numbers. I suggest that Rhodes’ bias, tied to his end-time belief in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ, makes him also unable or unwilling to see all the allegory indicated throughout the book of Revelation.

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 their 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 his view, unaware that his own concession to the “allegorical or symbolic when indicated in the context” is his view’s undoing.

a. Rhodes, Ron. The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy: Understanding the Ongoing Controversies. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2014.

Responses To Ron Rhodes’ ‘The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy’:

  1. Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical
  2. Toppling Dispensationalism
  3. Israel is Saved or Judged, not Replaced or Distinct
  4. The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? – PART 1
  5. The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 2 – Israel
  6. The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 3 – Middle East, European Union, Globalism?
  7. The Signs of the Times – Is America in Bible Prophecy?
  8. The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 1 – Israel regathered from Many Nations
  9. The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 2 – Russians and Muslims to Invade Israel on Horseback?
  10. When Will The Rapture Occur?
  11. Taking Issue with Futurism – Interpreting Revelation Part 1
  12. Daniel’s Seventieth Week and the Book of Revelation – Interpreting Revelation Part 2
  13. Babylon, the 144000 and The Two Witnesses – Interpreting Revelation – Part 3
  14. Who is the Antichrist? – Part 1
  15. Who is the Antichrist? – Part 2
  16. Who is the Antichrist? – Part 3
  17. Who is the Antichrist? – Part 4
  18. The Millennium
  19. Prophetic Events and Their Timing

22 thoughts on “Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical”

  1. Hi Rob, good to receive a blog from you again.
    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of Rhodes (whom I don’t know), thus far any way, although I am familiar with many who write in the same vein. I think Dallas Seminary has got much wrong in their eschatology over the years. I know some of their seminarians who would agree. Not to mention the deception of dispensationalism (Schofieldism), which has invaded so much of ‘American Christianity,’ if there is such a thing. Sadly so much of South Africa and Africa in general has suffered under these false teachings which we have unwittingly imported, which breaks my heart.
    Every blessing with your efforts going forward.

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