Interpretation 201

Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical?
Copyright 1998 by Natalie Pappas

Jehovah's Witnesses combine a mixture of dispensational and covenantal theology when it comes to interpreting prophecy.

Traditionally, Dispensationalists have interpreted prophecy literally and just as traditionally, Covenantalists have interpreted prophecy allegorically.

If the literal method of interpretation is applied to the Bible, anybody of any faith can sit down and agree what the Bible is teaching about any given subject. Once we know what the Bible says, then we can look to examine the many different ways that particular teaching can be applied to my life and yours. On the other hand, if the allegorical method of interpretation is applied to the Bible, the only thing that is certain is that nobody will ever agree upon anything.

Traditionally the church has either been made up of those who interprete literally or those who have interpreted allegorically. It was true then, it is true today.

Then came along certain groups outside the mainstream of the church who combined both methods of interpretation. The Jehovah's Witnesses are one major group which has done exactly this.

For example: JWs believe in a 1000 year dispensation of peace on THIS earth (literal). Yet THEY are spiritual Israel (allegorical).

Allow me to be more precise: anyone who meets the Watchtower's requirements for "salvation" is spiritual Israel. The requirements for surviving Armegeddon and living the 1000 years on Paradise Earth is this:

    1. You have to be a loyal (note the "loyal" part) Jehovah's Witness OR
    2. You have not heard the JW gospel AND are "good-hearted" OR
    3. You are not part of the 144,000 "born-againers" who have the "Heavenly Hope" (i.e., you live in heaven with Jesus (who is actually not "GOD" or another "god", but "like a god", actually Michael the Archangel)......((and if you can keep that straight you are on your way to understanding the JW mindset)).
    4. You might have HEARD the JW gospel, but you didn't outright reject it (i.e., you didn't slam the door on the JWs, but were polite to them).
    5. And above all, you are NOT disfellowshipped from the JW organization, but a current member in LOYAL standing.

To be a loyal member in good standing you have to make it to all the meetings, put in a certain amount of time going door to door, not to mention being obedient in ALL the areas of your life. It is a HARD burden to bear and NO JW can honestly say they are GOOD enough to be saved. They have absolutely no assurance of their salvation.

The irony is that according to their own teachings on this subject, a person has more of a chance of making it into Paradise Earth if he/she is NOT a JW than if he/she is a JW.

At this point you may be wondering: exactly what is Paradise Earth? Paradise Earth is a period of time, 1000 years (literal) to be precise, when Satan is bound and not allowed to roam the earth (literal) and tempt people to do evil (literal). During this period of time, people are given the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of eternal life without the evil influence of the devil. If they can be good enough, then after the 1000 years they will still be alive to face the final test: Will they rebell when Satan is let out of prison?

If the person living on Paradise Earth is deceived into rebelling, then they die. If not, they are finally are given the "prize" (which they proved they deserved) of eternal life.

It ought to be obvious by now that eternal life isn't a gift according to Watchtower theology. Anything earned or proved deserved isn't a gift, but a wage.

The WTB&TS covered both sides of the street when it comes to interpreting prophecy. They attempt to confuse those who interprete ALL of Scripture literally (Dispensationalists) with their "We're spiritual Israel". Dispensationalists begin by convincing the JW that Israel literally exists and all the promises made to the Jewish nation will one day be fulfilled. This is the starting point for a person who interpretes prophecy literally.

However, those who interprete only prophecy allegorically (Covenantalists) are confused by the WTB&TS's teaching that the majority of those who are "saved" in this present age will be living on earth, but those who are "born again" will live in heaven with Jesus. The Covenantalist believes that the 1000 years are allegorically interpreted and that at the end of the age Believers all enter a timeless eternity and everyone lives with Jesus forever and ever. This is the starting point for a person who interpretes prophecy allegorically.

Notice, however, that the person who interpretes prophecy literally can not be accused of picking and choosing from Scripture. This charge can be made of those who interprete prophecy allegorically, though.

Now why should the JW listen to someone who insists that the 1000 years spoken about in the book of Revelation are only "spiritual" and yet insist that the 12,000 from each tribe spoken about in Revelation are "literal". If I was a JW, I wouldn't listen either.

Yet the person who interpretes literally can agree with the JW that the 1000 years are literal, but also point out that it is just as literal as the 12,000 Jewish men from each tribe of Israel. Now it is the JW's turn to be confused. They can't accuse the Dispensationalist of picking and choosing from Scripture, can they?

Can you tell now the difference in how Dispensationalists interprete prophecy and in how Covenantalists interprete prophecy?

JW leaders pick either a dispensationalist view or a coventalist view of prophecy which suits their current doctrinal position. It makes for a rather confusing theology.

Why do Dispensationalists interprete all of Scripture literally, even future prophecy? The reason for this is that past prophecy was fulfulled literally. Thus, the Dispensationalist reasons that future prophecy will also be fulfilled in a like manner: literally. A literal interpretation of Scripture means that the symbolism used in Scripture is defined in Scripture. For example, in the first three chapters of Revelation, all the symbolism is interpreted by Jesus, Himself...the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, etc.... So the when the plain meaning of Scripture is clear, look for no other meaning. In the event you are not familiar with a literal interpretation, let me emphasize that metephors are allowed in literal interpretation of Scripture.

On the other hand, Covenantalists interprete all of Scripture literally except prophecy...which is, for the most part, interpreted allegorically. In the days of John Calvin and Martin Luther I can understand this--Israel was not a nation and had not been a nation for over 1,500 years. In our day, however, Israel is back in her land--something that has not ever happened in history with any other nation. It is for that reason I am a Dispensationalist. I see that prophecy has been, is, and will be fulfilled literally.

I'm sure it is apparent by now that it is not an easy task to discuss the Bible with a Jehovah's Witness. However, if you know which interpretation a JW is using for each portion of Scripture, then (and only then) can you know how to deal with each claim--even if you are a Covenantalist and interprete prophecy allegorically.

In response to the gospel, the JW will agree that they believe in Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection...although they will state that the resurrection wasn't physical (allegorical). If you question them further, you find that they don't really believe Jesus died for all of their sins, either (allegorical).

1st Corinthians 15:1-11 states clearly that Jesus died for ALL sins (literal).

So with that in hand, question your new JW friend in regards to Paradise Earth. Ask specific questions about verses in Scripture that only have a literal interpretation. This is the direction I taken lately with JWs who have come to my door.

Ask: Do all those who are resurrected into Paradise Earth have eternal life or simply given the CHANCE of showing that they are worthy enough to be given eternal life?

Since JW theology teaches that Paradise Earth (the 1000 reign of Christ (literal)--though not on earth (allegorical)) is simply a 1000 year judgment DAY (allegorical). They say that a day to the Lord is like a 1000 years (a metephor). Therefore, those who are resurrected, without the influence of Satan on earth (because he's bound for a 1000 years), have a second chance to prove to God that they will CHOOSE to be good and live a godly life.

The major problem with this is that it literally and allegorically does not fit in with what 1st Corinthians chapter 15 teaches about the resurrection body. The resurrection body CAN NOT SIN! It is incorruptable (it can't sin). This is true whether or not you are Covenantal or Dispensational. There is NO wiggle room.

This is the MAJOR flaw with the WTB&TS's Paradise Earth theology. Other Scriptures talk about how the believer's body will changed into a body like Christ's. Since JWs believe that Christ's body is made out of "a spiritual substance", they believe this must only apply to those 144,000 with the Heavenly Hope, i.e., "born-againers" up in heaven living with Christ and does not apply to those who are resurrected with a physical body.

However, the actual teaching of the WTB&TS is that 1st Corinthians 15:54 applies directly to those who will be resurrected with a physical body, therefore applies to everyone except the 144,000.

The WTB&TS's fatal mistake was teaching that resurrected believers can lose their salvation after being resurrected. Why? Because 1 Corinthians 15:54 says, "So when this corruptible (phthora--moral decay) shall have put on incorruption (aphtharsia--purity), and this mortal (thnetos--liable to death) shall have put on immortality (athanasia--undying, immortality, everlasting) [see Strongs Concordance], then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.".

The resurrected believer is not able to sin or die. However, the WTB&TS teaches the error that the resurrected believer can sin and therefore die.

Now the question might be asked about all those Scriptures which teach that those who sin are cut off during the 1000 year reign of Christ on earth. Who are they if not resurrected ones? If the resurrected believer can't sin or die, who is committing those sins and dying?

The answer is simple: When Christ returns after the 7 year tribulation period, those who survived the 7 years and Armeggeddon go into the 1000 years with their physical bodies. They have children and their children have children and not all of them will choose to follow Christ. They will sin and they will die. But the resurrected believers who return WITH Christ can not sin and therefore will not die.

Once you have shown this from Scripture, then you can begin to really present the Gospel to your JW friend, because it will only be at this point that he/she will be of a mindset to listen to you.

Ask: HOW much does it take in order to get into Paradise can he/she be certain? How does the Bible's teaching on the resurrection body of the believer square with the WTB&TS' teaching that the resurrected believer can sin?

Note this: we are not simply given a body like Adam. Adam had the free will to sin. We are not given the opportunity to fail in the resurrection. Adam was given that opportunity and the Bible's teaching is that anyone in that situation would have failed...we were ALL with Adam when he sinned, remember Paul's teaching in Romans chapters 1-4?

I once had a JW say to me that it didn't seem fair to her that we weren't given free will in the resurrection and I asked her very gently if she liked sinning. She said, 'no', and I asked, 'why then would you want the will TO sin?' Then when she was quiet, I continued, 'Wouldn't it be a blessing not to have these evil cravings?' She agreed that it would be nice, BUT said that she had eternity to look forward to that state of being.

This is again where JWs miss the mark. They honestly believe that our salvation HERE and RIGHT NOW simply consists of the obtaining the opportunity to "get it right" those 1000 years on Paradise Earth.

But eternal life isn't a second chance at obtaining salvation. Eternal literally means (in the Greek) "ages upon ages upon ages". It speaks of from the time someone is saved, they are given a TIMELESSNESS of life and that's much longer than a mere 1000 years.

Copyright 1994-2001 Natalie Pappas.
This website is brought to you courtesy of Natalie's Homepages