Spiritualizing Scripture,The Crime
Martin, I don’t think I’m unspiritual for
believing God’s Word. Do you?
Of course not. Why would you ask something like that?
Because my super-spiritual friends are making me feel
unspiritual for believing what God says.
Give me an example.
Well, for instance, I believe that there will be a literal
kingdom on this earth that will be headquartered in Jerusalem.
And you can cite verses for this belief?
Sure. Daniel 2:44 describes God setting up this kingdom.
Zechariah, chapter fourteen, says that Jehovah will be King over the entire
earth and that nations will have to come to Jerusalem to worship.
What do your spiritual friends have to say about this?
They look down on me for actually believing this.
They just roll their eyes and tell me I need to read the Word spiritually,
not literally. One guy, Melvin, says that Jerusalem represents my heart, and that’s
where the kingdom is.
What does Melvin say about Jehovah being king over the
He says that the earth represents my body and that this is
where Jehovah reigns, not on the literal earth.
Does God always mean "body" when He says
Oh, no. Only when Melvin says He does.
I see. Haven’t you mentioned before that Melvin has a
brother who is also very spiritual?
You’re thinking of Mayhem.
That’s him. What does Mayhem say these verses mean?
Mayhem says that, since Jerusalem means "city of
peace," and since peace is a feeling, then Jerusalem represents my soul. He
says that since "nations" consist mostly of unbelievers, then
"nations coming to Jerusalem to worship" means that unbelievers will
be attracted to my peaceful soul.
I see. And what about the earth?
Mayhem says that, since the earth is round, "Jehovah
ruling over the earth" means that He’s making us a well-rounded people.
This is very original. Is it true what I hear, that Melvin
and Mayhem have a gifted sister, Marvel, who has extraordinary insight into
It’s true. Marvel is the most spiritual of them all. God
has revealed things to Marvel on her exercise bike that only the truly spiritual
Can a plain person such as myself understand them?
It’s not likely. Here’s what I mean: last Friday,
Marvel was on her exercise bike praying and listening to inspirational music. At
exactly seven p.m.—seven being the number of perfection—God revealed to her,
by the spirit, that Jerusalem is Schenectady, New York.
Yes. But that’s not all. When Marvel got off her bike, a
drop of sweat ran down her nose and landed on a Rand McNally road atlas that was
on the floor. You’ll never guess where the drop landed.
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania?
No! Schenectady, New York!
You must be joking.
I’m not. It was a direct confirmation from God. Then God
quickened three passages of Scripture to Marvel’s spirit: Job 27:3, "The
spirit of God is in my nostrils," Genesis 7:24, "And the water
prevailed upon the earth," and Isaiah 29:1, "Observe your feasts
Wait a minute. I know my unspirituality must be showing
terribly here, but I’m not grasping the significance of that last verse.
Get it? They both start with the same three letters, three being the number of
Ah! And now Marvel believes that.....
And now Marvel believes that God’s intention is for us
to travel to Schenectady three times a year to observe the Jewish feasts.
And this leaves stupid old you...
And this leaves stupid old me believing that God meant
exactly what He said concerning the earth, the nations and Jerusalem. Of course,
it seems so simplistic and ordinary to believe this way. What is my
understanding compared with these other, flashier revelations?
I’ll admit that your belief is not very creative, my
How does it rank spiritually?
It’s very spiritual. Believing God is the most
spiritual thing a person can do. What troubles me most about Melvin, Mayhem and
Marvel is that, by constantly searching for what they call a "spiritual
interpretation" of God’s Word, they are denying that the literal meaning
is, in itself, spiritual.
I thought I was the only person who thought that.
Look at John 1:29- "Lo! the Lamb of God Which is
taking away the sin of the world!" Now, what’s your spiritual
interpretation of this?
I don’t have one. This verse doesn’t need a
spiritual interpretation. It’s pretty spiritual already.
Exactly. This verse, taken as it reads, is quite spiritual
enough to keep one soaring in his spirit and praising God for the rest of
one’s life. This verse is a fact. There’s no mystery here, no riddle, no
hidden meaning. People are surprised to hear that facts are spiritual.
It’s only the spirit of God that can make somebody believe
Right. That’s why I say that a fact is spiritual. A
"spiritual interpretation," if that’s what you want to call it, has
nothing to do with a verse having a mystical, hidden meaning. It has a lot to do
with believing what’s written. Verses like John 1:29 simply need to be
believed. And it takes the spirit of God to cause a person to do that.
Wouldn’t First Timothy 4:10 fit this category?
Yes. "God is the Savior of all mankind." This is
one of the simplest statements that can be uttered. A child can
understand it. Yet only one Christian out of a million actually believes it. The
other nine-hundred and ninety-nine thousand, etcetera, believe in eternal
torment. So you can see why I call this a spiritual verse, and why I resent the
implication that literal truth lacks spirituality. A verse is spiritual because
it takes the spirit of God for a person to believe it, not because its gems lie
beneath the surface.
So you think that Melvin, Mayhem and Marvel are all wrong?
Here’s where I might surprise you. No, I don’t think
they’re all wrong. The Word of God is multidimensional. I believe that rich
truths do underlie many a literal fact. But I don’t embrace these
truths at the expense of the literal fact. That’s the mistake.
For instance, the life of Joseph is a beautiful picture of Christ. And the lambs
and goats of the old divine service, we know, also pictured the Savior. But this
doesn’t mean that Joseph never lived, or that lambs never died, or that goats
were never sent into the wilderness. The Jordan river is a constant type of
baptism. But you can also put a boat in it and fish for carp. Egypt typifies the
flesh, we all know that. But it’s also in the world atlas under the letter
So you see deeper meanings beneath the surface,
I recently taught a message on how Edom, Moab and Ammon
making war with Jehoshaphat in Second Chronicles, chapter twenty, pictures our
sins and shortcomings making war with us. I relish these Scriptural
pictures. But not in my wildest dreams would I deny that Edom, Moab and Ammon
were actual countries, or that Jehoshaphat was a real person. This is the
mistake of our friends Melvin, Mayhem and Marvel.
It seems to me that denying these literal truths can lead
Like banana peels! To deny these truths is to deny that
God is able to say what He means. If God is unable to say what He means, then
only those who claim to see beneath the Word can understand Scripture.
You’ve probably heard a lot of these things over the
I’ve heard for years that when God says "days"
He means "years," when He says "death" He means
"life," when He says "man of lawlessness" He means our
"Adamic nature," when He says "Babylon" He means a religious
system, and—as we’ve been discussing—when He says "earth" He
means the believer’s body. Apparently, God has a difficult time communicating.
Those who see these things as literal death, a literal man of lawlessness, a
literal city Babylon and a literal earth, are thought stupid, silly, or at least
But you see these things as both literal and picturing
I have the best of both worlds. I realize that Babylon
figures a religious system. But it’s also a literal city that will figure into
God’s program. To deny that is to deny God’s clear revelation to man.
Certainly, Jerusalem is the figurative center of God within our hearts. But if
you’ll look at a map, you’ll see that it’s also the literal center of the
earth’s land mass, from which Christ will literally administer a literal
kingdom. Go ahead and say there’s a figurative "man of lawlessness"
within me. But scan the political horizon for a "dispenser of
righteousness" with an evil heart. My "earth" quakes in His
presence, to be sure. But keep an eye on the seismographs in San Francisco.
You’ve used the word figurative several times. What’s
the deal there?
Big! These folks who say they are spiritualizing the Word
are giving themselves too much credit. What they’re doing, in reality, is
discovering figures of speech called allegories.
Can you explain an allegory?
In an allegory, actual persons in their everyday lives set
forth truth. Only one allegory is called that by name in the Scripture. In
Galatians 4:22-31, Paul uses Sarah and Hagar to allegorize two covenants: the
old and the new.
So Sarah and Hagar represented the two covenants.
Right. But don’t stop there. Paul then goes on to use
another figure of speech known as Metaphor. In verse twenty-five,
Paul writes, "Hagar is mount Sinai." That’s a metaphor. A
metaphor is an abbreviated simile. Instead of saying that one thing is like
another—which is a simile—the metaphor boldly insists that it is that
So Hagar was not literally mount Sinai.
Of course not. She only represented it. Otherwise, Moses
climbed up her back and received the law somewhere near her scalp.
So she was spiritual mount Sinai?
Ah! There’s where the mistake is made! Hagar was not spiritual
mount Sinai. That would suggest that the literal mountain was not, itself,
spiritual. But Exodus 19:23 says that Moses hallowed that mountain. And
Exodus 19:20 says that Yahweh Himself descended to it. So mount Sinai was
already spiritual. To say that Hagar is spiritual mount Sinai is to deny
this. It’s what I was telling you people do with the surface truths in God’s
Word. The Word is already spiritual; nobody’s going to spiritualize it.
They may find allegories in it, but they won’t spiritualize it.
So what was Hagar?
Hagar was allegoric and metaphoric mount
Sinai. That is, she was figurative mount Sinai.
That doesn’t sound so mystical.
Precisely! It takes the wind out of the spiritualizers for
them to discover that they’re merely uncovering allegories and metaphors.
So when someone comes up to you shouting, "I’ve
discovered the spiritual meaning of such and such a verse....."
I simply tell them, "No, but you’ve discovered a
figure of speech. The spirit made you understand the figure of speech,
that’s true, but it’s the same spirit that has made others grasp the simple
pronouncement of First Timothy 4:10. You are no more spiritual than they, my
friend. You’ve not spiritualized the Word, for the Word is already
spiritual. Rather, the spirit has caused you to understand a figure of
I bet you’re lots of fun at a party.
I can play "Pop Goes the Weasel" by
squeaking my hands.
So you believe that Jerusalem may picture our heart? And
the earth may picture our flesh?
Why not? But again, don’t tell me that God won’t have
a literal kingdom on earth with Jerusalem as its capitol. There are too many
Scriptures that speak plainly of it. No one should embrace these figurative
applications at the expense of the literal. That’s the big mistake that
has shipwrecked many "believers" today. If God doesn’t mean what He
says, then we have no revelation at all. The Word becomes a floating lighthouse,
making us dependent on "spiritual" people who get personal revelations
on exercise bikes to explain it for us.
Right. Marvel is living proof that "private
revelations" are inherently dangerous and shouldn’t be trusted apart from
confirmation in the literal Word. God doesn’t leave His Word to private
interpretation. Even Melvin and Mayhem disagree. How do we know who’s right?
These allegorical applications are oftentimes helpful, oftentimes rich, but God’s
plain, literal declarations are the spiritual gold of revelation.
What about this "spiritual Israel" business?
It’s the same thing—figures of speech. What a great
deception has been founded by people who have failed to grasp figures of speech.
Worse, this unscriptural phrase has shipwrecked the faith of millions who now
disbelieve God’s promises to Israel. I dislike this term more than I dislike
People get this idea because Paul uses so many Israelite
terms to describe those of the nations who are in the body of Christ.
I know. Galatians 3:7, for example: "Those of faith,
these are sons of Abraham." The way most people understand this verse is:
anyone who believes—Jew or Greek—becomes a spiritual son of Abraham.
And everybody knows that a spiritual son is better than a literal one.
Since this is so, then God doesn’t have to fulfill His literal promises
to literal Israel, seeing as how He’s now got spiritual sons of
Abraham, that is, spiritual Israelites.
That’s the way the thinking goes.
There’s only one slight problem.
It’s a metaphor?
Right. The nations are not spiritual Israel. They’re figurative
Israel. They’re metaphoric Israel. They don’t in any way replace
Israel. They’re used to picture Israel, to show that they are—in
a way—like Israel.
Is there another example of this from the Scriptures?
In Matthew 26:26, Jesus held up a piece of bread in front
of His disciples and said, "This is My body." Now, was the bread
literally His body? Did the bread go out and get crucified?
No. The bread represented His body. It being broken
was a picture of what would happen to Him.
Exactly. Literal bread, literal body, figurative identification.
But what a great deception has been built by failing to recognize this metaphor.
With this error in mind, think of those who use Paul’s phrase, "Those of
faith, these are sons of Abraham" to cancel God’s promises to the literal
seed. To be consistent, they should also teach that, after Christ used the bread
to represent Himself, He, Himself, was canceled! That would be the case if a
metaphor eliminates a reality. But it doesn’t. A metaphor pictures a
reality. Does the ocean disappear when you take a picture of it? Not hardly. The
bread that pictured Christ did not eliminate Christ. Likewise, those of the
nations who picture what God will someday effect for Israel, do not eliminate
Israel. Galatians 4:28 confirms this—"Now you, brethren, as Isaac,
are children of promise." See? The nations are like Isaac. They are as
Isaac. But they neither eliminate Isaac, nor do they nix the promises God
made to Isaac and his literal descendants.
Besides, to say that the body of Christ is spiritual
Israel denies that Israel, itself, is spiritual.
Yes; that’s been my point all along. People try to
spiritualize things that God has already made spiritual. It’s pride. If men
can spiritualize God’s Word, then people will start looking to the men and not
to the Word. And this is just what has happened in the spiritualization camps.
The Word is nice, but they don’t really need it. I’ve been to
meetings like that. It’s scary. The doctrines they come up with are even
scarier. This person had a dream; that person heard a voice; that
person had an eerie feeling driving past the graveyard. Pity the poor clod
who presents a Scriptural fact. At the meetings where I speak, people are
looking down at their Bibles. It’s not very good for the ego.
I think people get a head trip from thinking of themselves
as spiritual Israel.
Do they! Tell them that they’re
figurative Israel, and the cookie crumbles. "Gee, Mildred. I found
out today that I’m only the wrong end of a metaphor." When you get right
down to it, humans are dumb and ordinary. It’s God Who dazzles us with
His Word and His works. And wait until you see what He’s going to do with
Israel. He’s going to stun the world, that’s what. What could be more
spiritual than Israel coming into her promised kingdom? Man, don’t let anybody
spiritualize away that blessed truth. That truth is spiritual!
Let’s talk about the book of Revelation for a moment.
People will make fun of you for thinking that everything written there is
literal. Do you really believe that there will be a wild beast with seven heads
and ten horns?
People are all the time telling me that Revelation must be
read "spiritually." This is the same voo-doo I’ve been talking
about. Revelation doesn’t need to be read spiritually, but with a solid grasp
of figures of speech. I know this will take all the fun out of it, but we want
truth, not fun. Almost the entire book of Revelation is, itself, a figure of
speech known as Vision. John is seeing things that do not exist at
the time. Did John see a seven-headed beast with ten horns? You bet he
did! Why do you think he got shook up so bad?
But then the messenger of the Lord explained to John what
Right. The messenger said: "The ten horns which you
perceived are ten kings."
They have to be. "Ten horns are ten kings" is a
metaphor. In a metaphor, the nouns on either side of the verb "to be"
are to be taken literally. The figure lies in the verb "to be"—in
this case, "is." And the last noun in the metaphor is the thing
being pictured by the others. So don’t look for ten horns, but do look
for ten kings. Poor John—he saw the ten horns.
So in the book of Revelation, there are many literal
things being described figuratively.
That’s a good way to put it. In Revelation, look for
figures within the principle figure, describing literal events.
Too bad you sound so calculating!
This is more spiritual than making the lame walk. But try
to put it on Christian television and get people to watch.
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise
A figure of speech called Implication. The
similarity between our Lord’s body and the temple is implied.
"Heaven is God’s throne."
Good one! Here are three figures in one. Because heaven is
not only said to be like a throne, but to be a throne,
"throne" is a metaphor. But "throne" is also a figure called
Association; since a throne is so closely associated with rule, it’s
put for it. And since "throne" implies that the Deity sits down, it’s
also a figure called Condescension, where God is given human attributes
He doesn’t actually possess. Too bad this verse isn’t in Revelation. Then
all these figures would be included in the principle figure: Vision.
I’d feel better about this if you would jump up and
speak in tongues.
I could do that. But we wouldn’t learn as much.
Why has spiritualizing—or I guess I should say, finding allegories
in the Word—become so popular?
Because it’s easy. All you need is a gut feeling. You
may be right, you may be wrong. In my opinion, Marvel is nuts. Melvin and Mayhem
may be onto something, but which one is right? They both said different things.
When someone begins an exposition on allegorical grounds, a red flag should pop
up. Proceed with caution, is all I have to say. Test it against the literal Word.
If it rings true, then enjoy it. If it’s Marvel, tell her to go home and
blow-dry her road atlas.
People have told me that I spend too much time in the
Word. They say that I need to "flow with the spirit."
Have you noticed something about that? "Flowing with
the spirit" apparently includes watching television, going to the mall and
reading romance novels. Just don’t spend too much time with them Bible words!
I’d like to have a dollar for every time someone has said to me, "The
I’ll settle for a nickel.
Even a brief glance at the context of Second Corinthians
3:3-7 will show that the letter that kills is the Mosaic law chiseled in stone, not
the Word of God. Jesus said in John 6:63 that His words were spirit
and life, but that some were simply not believing those words. Where are His
words recorded? In the Scriptures. Would we know them apart from the Scriptures?
Sorry, but no.
When people spiritualize the Word—can I use that term?—they
don’t have to understand it or correctly cut it.
Spiritualizing God’s Word is, many times, a smoke screen
for Scriptural carelessness.
I think so, too.
Second Timothy 2:15 says, "Endeavor to present
yourself to God qualified, an unashamed worker, correctly cutting the word of
truth." This is work! In Second Timothy 1:13, Paul exhorts Timothy
to have a pattern of sound words. Words, man! Many of God’s people have
taken to spiritualizing Scripture because, by doing so, anyone can become an
instant "expert." You don’t need a knowledge of grammar, or of
figures of speech, or of Greek or Hebrew. A spiritualizer automatically
pirouettes to the head of the class. He’s beyond instruction. Nobody can teach
him because practical instruction has become, to him, unspiritual. He has a
mysterious insight into God’s Word that nobody else can attain. This is
a whole lot easier than becoming an unashamed worker. If you spiritualize
Scripture, you don’t have to be a worker. You don’t have to be
precise. You don’t have to be a student. You don’t need words.
You don’t need facts. When someone approaches with a fact, you can
simply write him off by saying, "facts are unspiritual." Then you can
twist verses like "the letter killeth" to justify your ignorance.
Which is really only proof of it.
I didn’t say that.
I used to do the same thing.
What? Stand on a soapbox?
No. Spiritualizing gave me an edge over those who knew
more than me about God’s Word. I used to put these down as literal-minded. I
accused them of wanting to figure everything out. Since I was either unmotivated
or too busy to study that intensely, I became "spiritual" and scoffed
at the learned. Now I sit at their feet.
It’s strange that believers would berate other believers
for wanting to know more about God. It’s hard to study God’s Word. But it’s
easy to sit back and call the learned unspiritual.
The hardest thing to get people to see is that words are
I know. I’ve learned to quote them First Corinthians
2:12-13: "Now we obtained, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit
which is of God, that we may be perceiving that which is being graciously given
to us by God, which we are speaking also, not with words taught by human wisdom,
but with those taught by the spirit, matching spiritual blessings with spiritual
So the spirit taught Paul the right words to teach.
Yes. Spiritual words. And those words are recorded in his
I’m reading out of the Concordant Version here, the very
next verse, verse fourteen: "Now the soulish man is not receiving those
things which are of the spirit of God." Doesn’t the King James Version
read, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God?"
Yes. That verse has caused a ton of trouble. The
Concordant Version is right. The Greek word there is psuchikon. This is
the adjective form of the noun, psuche, which was rightly translated
"soul" fifty-eight times by the King James translators. Because an
adjective can’t mean more than its noun, the KJV translators should have done
what the Concordant Version did: translate the adjective "soulish."
Simple! To their credit, they did translate it "sensual" twice, which
is pretty good. Why didn’t they do that all the time? To translate this
"natural" is totally unwarranted. It has really confused people.
Sure. If the natural man can’t receive the things
of God, then we have to do something un-natural to receive them.
Exactly. And I really believe that this is where the
spiritualization business came from. If we can’t know these things naturally—that
is, by natural processes such as thinking and studying—then we’ve got to get
metaphysical. Spooky. Woo-woo. Feeling stuff. Psychic-type junk that passes
as spiritual. I really think this mistranslation of First Corinthians 2:14
got the ball rolling.
I can’t help but think of Marvel when you say that.
I remember a lovely, old man—had been a Christian all
his life—and he said to me about a month before he died: "We just can’t
figure out the Scriptures with our natural minds." I was trying to show Him
some comforting verses, but he wouldn’t read them. He was afraid of his
natural mind! Brother, I could have just plucked King James’ beard!
When you think there’s something wrong with natural
processes, then you start to imagine that thinking is unspiritual, and reading
is unspiritual, and study is unspiritual...
You hit it. The whole truth of this passage is that the soulish
man is not receiving those things which are of the spirit of God. The soul
is the emotions. The senses. The person who seeks nothing but sensual
gratification every day--eating, drinking, television, sex, whatever—he’s
not going to receive the things of God. Our spiritualization friends fall into
this category when they depend on feelings for revelation. What is passing for
spirituality with them—feelings and such—is actually soulish. And what is
passing for unspirituality by them—thinking, studying, examining—is
"Now he who is spiritual is, indeed, examining
Yes! That’s the very next verse: First
Corinthians 2:15. The spiritual man is examining. It’s spiritual to sit
at a desk and pore over Scripture.
We don’t need spiritual brains. The natural gray matter
doesn’t change. What we need is spiritually energized brains; we need
brains energized by the spirit, rather than the soul.
That’s beautiful. Same brain, different fuel. I’m
reminded of Paul’s words from prison—2 Timothy 4:13. Here’s the man who
wrote the better part of the Greek Scriptures, and what does he ask Timothy for?
"When you come, bring the scrolls, especially the vellums." Even a
great apostle needs to read. Romans 12:2 says that we are to be transformed by
the renewing of our minds, not the removing of them.
Amen! I like that.
One more thing.
The two men on the road to Emmaus in Luke, chapter
twenty-four. You know the story. The resurrected Lord disguises Himself somehow
and starts walking along with them. Mind you, here’s the Son of God on the day
of His resurrection. If anyone could have blown these guys away with wild
revelations from beyond the blue, He could have. But what does He do?
"And, beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interprets to
them, in all the Scriptures, that which concerns Himself." What
control! Not even our Lord, on the day of His resurrection, is disposed above
what is written. He works out of the written Word."
First Corinthians 4:6- "...that you may be learning
not to be disposed above what is written, that you may not be puffed up..."
In Colossians 1:25, Paul says that he completed the Word
of God. If anybody wants to be disposed above what it written today, they’re
on their own.
Which brings us to the matter of translation.
A critical subject indeed. But look and see. We have gone
on for too many pages already, and I perceive we may have already strained our
readers’ patience. Is it possible that you can be back here next month? You
seem to have some insight into these things, and we speak well together.
I’d like that. But first, let me cancel my Greyhound
reservations to Schenectady.