The Importance of a Literal Interpretation
Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation. When most readers open a newspaper or book, they assume the author intends for them to understand what he is saying. They also instinctively assume that, to understand what the author is saying, they must use a literal, or normal, hermeneutic: They must interpret the text literally or naturally, unless the context indicates otherwise.
Interpreting the Bible is no different. The goal is to understand what the human author, as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, intended to say. We do so by using a literal hermeneutic (even with passages dealing with end-times prophecies), unless the context indicates otherwise.
Unfortunately, much of Scripture, especially the Old Testament, is interpreted by replacement theologians who use what is known as the allegorical method. It assumes there is a deeper, more spiritual or mystical, understanding of Scripture beyond the mere literal understanding and that this hidden understanding is found only by those who are able to search out its secrets.
This mindset is especially prevalent when it comes to prophecy. With the allegorical method, prophecy is not to be taken literally but, rather, figuratively and symbolically.
The allegorical method, however, leads to several major errors:
1. Jesus’ Comings. It is hermeneutically inconsistent. Replacement theologians interpret prophecies related to Jesus’ First Coming literally, but prophecies related to His Second Coming they interpret figuratively.
2. Israel. The allegorical method fails to make clear, biblical distinctions between Israel and the church. Even though there are scores of biblical passages declaring that God has a distinct future for Israel, replacement theologians either ignore those passages or explain them away or apply them figuratively to the church.
They are eager to apply Israel’s blessings to the church, but not so eager to apply Israel’s curses to the church.
Additionally, if the church is now “spiritual Israel,” as Replacement Theology claims, who is now spiritual Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Egypt, and all the other nations mentioned in the Old Testament?
3. God’s Character. The allegorical method also raises serious questions about God’s veracity. If, in the Old Testament, God promised Israel a literal, earthly Kingdom, but He really meant a figurative, immaterial kingdom, what does that say about God’s character? Does God deceive His people with literal promises and then hold them accountable for not recognizing that they were actually figurative?
In contrast, when a literal hermeneutic is used consistently, there results a consistent understanding of Scripture as a whole. Separate administrations of God’s rule on Earth come to light. A distinct program for both Israel and the church is revealed (not two ways of salvation, but a distinct plan and program). New Testament revelation does not redefine Old Testament concepts.
In addition, a massive amount of unfulfilled, prophetic Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, is faced squarely and addressed. End-times events begin to take shape and fall into their proper chronological places. And God’s character is not impugned, but vindicated. His glory is seen as the chief goal of all of history.
A literal hermeneutic does not make these things so. Rather, it reveals them to be so.
When a literal hermeneutic is used consistently to understand Scripture, the end result is Dispensationalism. When a literal hermeneutic is not used consistently, the end result is Replacement Theology.