What does it mean to teach by allegorizing the scriptures?
In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter wrote,
as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
First, please note that he said that those who twist the scriptures do so to their own destruction. So often when I write about false teachers, false doctrine, and actually name the false teachers of doctrine, the ignorant and unstable become upset with it. They fire angry emails and comments asking what have I done lately for the Lord. They charge me with failing to pray for these misguided souls. They claim the false teachers are just making a temporary mistake and all will come out right in the end if we but have patience and love.
Scripture twisters to be destroyed
They twist the scriptures to their own destruction. Here is MacArthur commentary on that part of the verse:
By distorting the scriptures, the false teachers were simultaneously securing their own destruction, (cf. 2:2, 3-12, 3:7; Jude 10, 13; Rev 22:18-19) as well as the spiritual demise of their followers. That's why Peter warns his beloved readers beforehand, so that they might be on their guard against the error of such unprincipled men (Phil 3:2; 1 Tim 4:1-7, 6:20-21; 2 Tim 2:15-19; Titus 1:16, 3:10).Distorting the scriptures is a serious business. The many warnings not to do so should be taken seriously, not the least reason is that there are so many ways to distort the scriptures. This essay discusses two of them, spiritualization and allegorization, which are very similar.
Allegorization: A Twisted Practice
Here is John MacArthur defining spiritualization/allegorization:
What do you mean spiritualize or allegorize? Well, you use Scripture like some kind of story and make it mean whatever you want.Here is Rev. Matt Slick defining allegorization:
To allegorize means to use a symbol as representing a more complex idea.An example of this erroneous method of interpreting the Bible is recounted by John MacArthur, when he did just that in his very first sermon:
John MacArthur on "Don’t Spiritualize"
Third, don’t spiritualize the straightforward meaning of a Bible verse. The first sermon I ever preached was a horrible sermon. My text was "An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone" (Matthew 28:2). My sermon was “Rolling Away Stones in Your Life." I talked about the stone of doubt, the stone of fear, and the stone of anger. That is not what that verse is talking about; it’s talking about a real stone. I made it into a terrific allegory at the expense of its plain meaning.
On another occasion I heard a sermon on "they cast four anchors…and wished for the day" (Acts 27:29 KJV); the anchor of hope, the anchor of faith, and so on. Those Acts 27 anchors were not anchors of anything but metal. ... Don’t spiritualize the Bible; study it to gain the right meaning.It's not just men who allegorize. This wrong method of interpretation appeals to many false women teachers, too. It seems like a good method for the women who are emotionally driven and spiritually lazy. Like Beth Moore.
Exegetical ErrorsIf Mrs. Moore is exercising the position of a Bible teacher, then she should be able to properly exegete Scripture. Unfortunately, she is guilty of frequent allegorization where she misapplies Scripture. To allegorize means to use a symbol as representing a more complex idea. The problem is that with allegorizing, Scripture can be made to say almost anything. Let's take a look at a few of the many examples of Beth Moore's improper biblical interpretive practices.
Quote: Speaking of the demoniac of Matt. 8:28-34, she says, "before we proceed to the next point, consider a fact revealed in verse 27. The demonic didn't live in a house. He resided in the tombs. I wonder how many people today are living "in the tombs"? I know a woman who is still so oppressed by despair that decades after the loss of a loved one, she still lives "in the tombs." (Jesus, the One and Only, by Beth Moore, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tenn., 2002, p. 143-144).
Response: The biblical text is about Jesus' authority over the demonic realm, not about people living "in the tombs." The two demoniac's that were living in these dark places were exceedingly violent (v. 28). They said to Jesus, "What do we have to do with you, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?" Jesus then commanded the demons in these two men to leave, and they went and entered into swine (vv. 31-32). The point of the text has nothing to do with people who are held in bondage by emotional traumas. Beth's allegorizing the text to make it fit her need is a wrong use of the text.As both John MacArthur and Matt Slick stated, the danger of spiritualizing and allegorizing is that the person who is spiritualizing can just pick out of the air any symbol they want to make mean something and use it to interpret the Bible that way. Once you unhitch from the text you can then insert any symbol for any meaning or interpretation you like. "In the tombs" are not actual tombs, but symbolizes woman in despair. The "anchors" are not anchors but stand for faith, hope, etc. The "stone" was not a stone but symbolized fear. If I decided to allegorize those same texts I could decide that tombs means marginalized people in social injustice, anchors means lack of sanctification progress, and stone means hindrance to prosperity. Voila.
The only acceptable allegorizations
The Bible does have some allegories within it that can be explained as they are. There's -
- Nathan's parable of the rich man who killed a poor man's beloved pet lamb, 2 Samuel 12:1-4
- Jesus' parables have a wide range of degrees of allegorical symbols, many of them explained in the text just after the recording of the parable itself.
- In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul uses the story of the children of Sarah (Isaac) and Hagar (Ishmael) and the images of Jerusalem above and Mount Sinai as a double allegory, which Paul then goes on to explicitly explain. "Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants...(v. 24)
Good interpretive practices
This article from 9Marks discusses the 9 marks of a prosperity gospel church by comparing good church practices with prosperity church practices. One could just as easily substitute any false practice by comparing to these 9 good marks. Topping the list is that a good church will practice expositional preaching on a regular basis.
Expositional preaching is
...at its simplest is preaching that is focused on explaining the meaning of Scripture in its historical and grammatical context. Expositional preaching involves explaining what the Bible says to a contemporary audience that is likely unfamiliar with the cultural and historical settings that the passage was written in.
The word exposition simply means “a setting forth or explanation.” So expositional preaching is the explanation of Scripture that is based upon diligent study and careful exegesis of a passage. It is the primary call of the pastor or preacher as we see in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”
No need for application
Where many preachers get into trouble is that they believe their sermon needs some sort of 'application' at the end. It could be that they have interpreted rightly, have explained the text in a solid expositional sermon, but when they get to the end they feel that it needs explicit teaching on how to apply the text to their congregants' lives.
Here is an answer to the oft-asked question "Why Doesn't John MacArthur Add much Application to His Sermons?" He is asked this because he is one of America's best known-preachers for teaching exposionally, having taught verse-by-verse through the entire New Testament over the course of 42 years. Yet there is very little application in any of his sermons. Here's why:
Now let me tell you what happens when you preach effectively. You do explanation. In other words, you explain the meaning of Scripture, okay? The explanation carries with it implication. In other words, there are implications built into this truth that impact us. You add to that exhortation. And I’ve said things tonight to exhort you to follow what is implied by the text. Now when you deal with the text and the armor of God, like tonight, all I can do is explain it. That’s all it does. There aren’t any applications in that text. It doesn’t say, “And here’s how to do this if you’re 32 years old, and you live in North Hollywood.” “Here’s how to do this the next time you go to a Mall.” “Here’s how to do this when you go in your car and you’re driving in a traffic jam.” It doesn’t tell you that. And if I made my message mostly a whole lot of those little illustrations, I would be missing 90 percent of you who don’t live in that experience.
It’s not for me to do that. Application belongs to the Spirit of God. All I’m interested in is explanation and its implications. And the power comes in the implication and the Spirit of God takes the implications of what I’ve said tonight, all these things I’ve said, I don’t need to say all kinds of little scenarios to you and paint all kinds of little individual circumstances. All I need you to know is this is what the Word of God says and the implications are powerfully brought to bear with authority on your life and I exhort you to respond to those implications, it is the Spirit’s work to drive those implications into direct and personal application.
Ladies, I Warn About Beth Moore Again
I'd like to refer you again to the picture at the top. I've listened to a lot of Beth Moore as well having listened to as other ladies who claim to be good Bible teachers. Beth Moore is not a good Bible teacher. If you have gone through her "Bible studies" please think about how many of the examples Moore has used like the ones in the picture at the top. The example from Matt Slick is only one of the several of Moore's faulty interpretations he reported. Chris Rosebrough has also explained why Moore's allegorizations are faulty. So has Justin Peters. Mike Abendroth. And so on.
I consider Moore "patient zero" in the infection into conservative, evangelical circles of her faulty way of teaching through made-up allegory. She has done it that way for so long that generations coming up are now also teaching it that way.
I warn you to avoid any teacher who consistently uses allegorization as their main way of interpreting scripture. Remember, they twist to their own - and their followers'destruction.