The Bible says, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes”. I believe what I say is right, or I wouldn’t say it. Every honest man does that. Others believe what they say is right, or they wouldn’t say it. I put my stuff out there to let people have a shot at it. I have to change my views sometimes because they are not defensible. I have even embarassed myself a few times because what I said was so wrong. That being said, let me give a little background in this “it is figurative” business.
I have discussed prophecy on the OT Prophecy list. The group is dominated by AD 70 preterits. They believe that ALL prophecy was fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Their main tool is “it is figurative”. At first I tried Bible study, but after a while it became obvious that Bible study and reasoning from the scriptures with these men is impossible for the simple fact that every single scripture that one may present to contraindicate an AD 70 fulfillment of all scripture meets with the immediate “it is figurative” response. This technique renders reasoning from the scriptures impossible, because anything that disagrees with their postulates is a figure of speech to be explained away. It shows that absolutely any scripture can be nullified by the “it is figurative” hermaneutic.
Because I could not study the Bible with them, I began to attack their position. I showed them that the basis for their position was not logic, but assumptions and word association. Logic did not compel them to reach their position, but rather they made some basic erroneous assumptions and reasoned from there. They also use word association to relate unrelated scripture. An example was explaining the sword of Rev 19:21 to be the sword of the Spirit in Eph 6:17. Now why pick that sword to “explain” Rev 19:21? Why not pick Gideon’s sword or Goliath’s sword or the Cherub’s sword in Gen 3? There is no logical reason, because the sword in Rev 19:21 was not a figure of speech to begin with, and there certainly is no justification then for trying to make it something else. When you think in that manner about what they are doing, it becomes obvious that they are making it up. Now what happens when you conclude that ALL prophecy was fulfilled in AD 70 is that you subvert and destroy the Bible eschatology. There is no Second Coming. There is no resurrection of the dead. There is no judgment. There is no hell. There is no new earth. These things are either past already or else they are figures of speech. Our future is to be a ghost with God. That’s it. I believe that the destruction of the Christian’s hope is a repudiation of Christianity because it repudiates the resurrection of the dead and thereby denies the resurrection of Christ (I Cor 15:13), and it is all based upon this “it is figurative” hermeneutic. If applied, it completely destroys Christianity and divine inspiration. It is a horrible methodology.
Not every one that employs the “it is figurative” teaching goes so far as to deny the bodily resurrection of the dead, but they do, however, employ the same methodology on prophecy. It’s just that do not choose to go as far as these preterits have gone. The people who don’t go as far as making all prophecy cease in AD 70 but who do employ the “it is figurative” hermeneutic to explain some Bible prophecy are called partial preterits. Most brethren fall into that category, so you are in good company. All of the commentaries by brethren that I have been able to find are partial preterits or continous historists, and the historists use the same “it is figurative” technique. The problem with the technique, however, is that there is no logical stopping place short of complete unbelief. You can apply it in part, but it is not logical. You do not apply it to some things just because you want to, not because logic compels you. The same “it is figurative” pronouncement can be applied to absolutely ANYTHING. The technique is devastating to understanding the Bible. It results in replacing what God said with what man wants it to say.
Because of the problem that I see with preterism, I began to examine what they were doing with the scriptures. At first I saw that they were doing word association without real justification, as I pointed out previously about the sword. Then I began to wonder what motivated them to apply the technique to some scriptures and not others. The basic answer is that they don’t believe what the scripture literally says. They do not believe that the stars will literally fall from the sky. They do not believe that the dead will literally rise from the earth. They do not believe that birds will literally eat the dead armies at the end of the world. Because they don’t believe what it says they pronounce it to be a figure of speech and proceed to redefine everything to make it say what they want it to say. There is no reason not to believe that God will literally sound trumpets in heaven or pour out a bowl. What is wierd about pouring out a bowl? The Gentiles have done it for millennia. It is called a libation. The only unusual thing about the angel pouring out the libation is that a plague follows. The text does not say that the plague came out of the bowl. It just says the plague followed the pouring out. The libation marked the beginning of the plague, but God brought it about by other things that He did.
These preterits don’t believe the text, so they make up stuff that they can believe. There is no justification in saying that Christ will not literally return to the earth, and that the dead will not literally rise from the dead based upon what the text actually says, but you can do it if you pronounce enough scriptures “figurative” and redefine them to suit your theory. That is why I said that the “it is figurative” hermeneutic is based on unbelief. It is obvious when you look at it. They simply do not believe that a city can float or a sword can proceed out of somebody’s mouth or that a pearl can be big enough to serve as a gate. Because they don’t believe what the text says, they make it a figure of speech and start doing word association and redefining terms. It is the same thing the modernists did with the virgin birth and the same thing the theistic evolutionists did with the creation and the same thing the skeptics did with Christ’s resurrection and the same thing that Jack Holt did with baptism. There is no place where it cannot be applied, and these men all do it for exactly the same reason: they do not believe what the text actually says. The basis for “it is figurative” is unbelief in what God literally says.
So, the “it is figurative” proponents can take umbrage at my remarks, but I am just trying to warn where that trail leads. It winds up the thorny thicket of complete apostasy. There is another alternative to making up our own Bible. It is called believe what God says. The literal truth is not wierd when you think about it a little. It is outside our normative thinking, but well within the range of reasonable behavior of God. After all, God made the earth to start with. What’s a giant pearl to the God that invented the oyster? A literal understanding of Revelation is enlightening and refreshing and encouraging. It is just not the traditional norm.