Friday, August 13, 2010


The following is extracted from a short play entitled "Spiritualizing Scripture, The Crime" by Martin Zender:

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 meatloaf.

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 this represented.

Right. The messenger said: "The ten horns which you perceived are ten kings."

Literal 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 it up."

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 letter killeth."

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.


Photo: Judean Captives of the Assyrians taken from Lachish, circa 701 BC.

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