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7.3. The Rise of Allegorical Interpretation

Because the book of Revelation is categorized as apocalyptic literature and contains numerous symbols, it undergoes a great deal of abuse due to allegorical interpretation. But what exactly is allegorical (also known as mystical1 ) interpretation and where did it come from?

1 “Literal is not opposed to spiritual but to figurative; spiritual is an antithesis on the one hand to material, and on the other to carnal (in a bad sense). The Literalist is not one who denies that figurative language, that symbols are used in prophecy, nor does he deny that great spiritual truths are set forth therein; his position is simply, that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted (i.e., according to the received laws of language) as any other utterances are interpreted-that which is manifestly literal being regarded as literal, and that which is manifestly figuratively being so regarded. The position of the Spiritualist is not that which is properly indicated by the term. He is one who holds that certain portions are to be normally interpreted, other portions are to be regarded as having a mystical sense. The terms properly expressive of the schools are normal and mystical.” John Peter Lange, A Commentary on the Holy Scripture: Revelation, p. 98.

2 Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1991), 29.

3 Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 185.

4 “In the history of allegorical interpretation of Scripture it is not denied that there is a literal, historical, or grammatical sense to Scripture, but it is depreciated. It is the ‘fleshly’ or the ‘superficial’ understanding of Scripture.”—Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 3rd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1970), 124.

5 “Among non-literal prophetic interpreters, a state of virtual interpretive chaos exists. It is rare, for instance, to see a well-ordered or definitive work by an amillennial interpreter setting forth positively and consistently his prophetic interpretations. On the contrary, the amillennial writings usually concentrate on attacking and ridiculing the premillennial position. This approach is probably one of necessity, for amillennialists seldom agree with each other in specific interpretations of prophecy except to be against the earthly millennium.”—Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Dallas, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1993), 73.

6 Ibid., 37-38.

7 George H. N. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1978, 1884), 50.

8 Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, 30-31.

9 Ibid., 35.

10 Mal Couch, “Interpreting the Book of Revelation,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 58-59.

11 Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 323.

12 “Augustine proposed seven rules of interpretation by which he sought to give a rational basis for allegorization.”—Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, 39.

13 Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, 53.

14 Rodney Petersen, “Continuity and Discontinuity: The Debate throughout Church History,” in John S. Feinberg, ed., Continuity And Discontinuity (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), 26.

15 Larry V. Crutchfield, “Revelation in the New Testament,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 32.

16 “Though the Reformers had come out of the interpretive darkness into the light of literal and historical hermeneutics, they still clung to allegorical details in their attempt to understand the book of Revelation.”—Mal Couch, “How Has Revelation Been Viewed Interpretively?,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 40.

17 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), 25.

18 Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 111.

19 Crutchfield, “Revelation in the New Testament,” 25.

20 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 20.

21 “The question is if these allegorizing commentators are not as much in the dark in relation to the second coming and the glory that should follow, as the Jews were in relation to His First Advent and His atoning suffering and death.” [emphasis added]—Arnold Fruchtenbaum, “The Little Apocalypse of Zechariah,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 270.

22 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), Rev. 11:3.

23 Ibid., Rev. 12:7-12.

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