DATE OF PUBLICATION: ................ 2002
friend phoned this morning and asked for help. Someone has arrived at
their church, who claims to have a new, hidden knowledge about the
meaning of Scripture.
this type of fanaticism is extremely dangerous and can easily captivate
minds and spread, I am immediately preparing a study on it. Here it is.
CORRECT USE OF SYMBOLS
Inspired Writings (the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy) are to be taken
literally, unless an obvious symbol is employed.
an obvious symbol is present, then a secondary meaning may be sought.
This is especially so when the literal use of the words lacks adequate
meaning by themselves. But that figurative meaning will clearly be given
elsewhere in Scripture
language is primarily found in:
- Dreams: When Joseph dreamed
that the sun, moon, and stars would bow before him (Gen 37:9), it
is obvious that symbols were employed. The literal sun, moon, and eleven
stars were not going to bow before him, so a secondary meaning would
need to be found. Since he was a child at the time, his parents and
brothers were obviously represented by the symbols, and they immediately
recognized it (vrs. 10). Two other examples of the use of symbols
in dreams would include those of the butler and baker (Gen 40:8-22),
and Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great image (Daniel 2).
not all dreams had symbols; sometimes they consisted of information or
commands. When the wise men were told in a dream not to return to Herod
and Joseph was told to flee to Egypt, no symbols were needed (Matt
2:12-13). In a dream, Paul was told by a man in Macedonia to come
and help his people. The meaning was obvious (Acts 16:9).
- Prophecy: The use of symbols
in prophecy is also obvious, when the literal meaning would not be true. The woman riding the beast in Revelation 17:1-6 clearly needs
are told that the dragon of Revelation 12:3-4 (GC 438), and the
leopard-like beast of Revelation 13:1-10 (GC 439) are symbols.
The four winds are symbolized as meaning strife (GC 440).
of the prophetic books have many symbols. These include the prophecies
of Daniel (PK 485), Ezekiel (PK 448, 535), and Zechariah (PK
- The Sanctuary service: The
Passover purification by sprinkling with blood on a hyssop was symbolic (PP
277). The Sanctuary service included secondary symbolic meanings (Ed
35; PP 523, 584)
- Symbols which point to Christ:
There are a variety of symbols which point to Christ. These include the
brazen serpent (SD 222), the cities of refuge (PP 516),
the smitten rock (PP 411, 418), the sacrificial blood (PP
353), and the wine in the marriage feast (DA 148-149).
- Parables: Christ's
parables symbolized truths (3T 426). The vine and its branches
have special meanings. But it would be an error to imagine that they had
many meanings. As a general rule, when the correct interpretation of the
symbol has been found, we need not keep searching for additional
WRONG USE OF SYMBOLS
away Scripture occurs when literal, historical events are spiritualized
away by applying secondary meanings to them. Every noun and many verbs
are said to have hidden meanings, which the discerning will be able to
figure out. You will be told that it takes great wisdom to be able to do
this. Believers are taken in by this, imagining that the person telling
them this is smarter or closer to God than they are.
like Eve at an earlier tree of pretended knowledge, they linger and
in reality, the hidden meanings which are offered are, for two
reasons, always flawed: First, various meanings can be applied out of
thin air to each word. Second, most of the meanings are either not
Scripturally founded at all, or not even relevant.
spiritualizing of words is also called the allegorical method.
we are dealing with here are changed definitions of words describing
actual events. This produces confusion. It also provides the false sense
of mystery and hidden knowledge. The hearers sense that the whole thing
is incoherent. Some reject it outright and leave. Others, worried that
it only appears incomprehensible because they are not smart enough to
grasp it, go ahead and accept it.
ANCIENT ORIGINS OF SPIRITUALIZING
spiritualizing away, changing actual information into some kind of
secret code, comes from the pagan Greeks. Philosophers used it to
convince their countrymen that they were very intelligent, and able to
delve into the secrets of the universe.
philosophy made its nearest approach to Christianity in Plato (427-347
B.C.). He elaborated the concepts of Socrates and wrote them down.
Later, the teachings of Plato greatly influenced liberal Jewish and
Christian writers. They were deeply impressed by his grasp of what men
called esoteric (hidden) knowledge.
taught that divine ideas were only imperfectly contained in human words,
and that we must seek out the secret truth in them. His teachings were
fundamentally pantheistic. God was in everything, and we could find
hidden things in everything about us. He gleaned a variety of pagan
ideas during his travels to the pagan oracles of Greece, Asia, Egypt,
(c. A.D. 185-c. 254) was the first to extensively bring Platonic error
into early Christianity. The Neo-Platonic philosophy was just coming
into prominence under the leadership of Ammonius Saccas. Origen studied
his methods carefully. Soon his reputation was widespread, and heathen
and Gnostics in large numbers were attending his lectures. Because he
taught a mixture of Christianity and Platonism, many heathen were
converted to his worldly brand of Christianity.
mastered the Hebrew language, traveled to Rome, Arabia, Palestine and
Greece for further enlightenment, and then wrote extensively.
Origen was willing to dabble in Platonistic and Gnostic learning, Satan
used it to capture him. Origen was the first to reduce the allegorical
method of Scripture interpretation to a organized system.
accordance with Platonism, he stated that every passage of the Bible has
three meanings: literal, moral, and spiritual.
literal meaning (what you read when you open the Bible), he said was
unimportant, for it was earthly, sensual, carnal, and Jewish. In fact,
he said it was not always true.
deeper sense, which was celestial, symbolic, mystical, and secret, was
divided into the moral and spiritual sense. The moral sense relates to
the religious life, and the spiritual sense to the heavenly life, the
world to come.
method of Scriptural interpretation became widely accepted by Christian
philosophers throughout the Dark Ages.
is an intriguing fact that almost all the great doctrinal controversies
of the fourth and following centuries centered around points on which
Origen had speculated most boldly.
stood with Augustine as the other of the two most influential
theologians of the ancient church. Both taught many errors.
spiritualizing, or allegorical, method frees a person to be able to read
into a passage anything he wants it to say! The Bible no longer is a
message from God, but a collection of assumptions and theories devised
RABBINICAL TWISTING OF SCRIPTURE
variant of this method was used by the Jews who wrote comments in the
margins of the Bible, which we today call the Talmud. It is an
immense jumble of assorted and conflicting ideas. Some of it is based on
allegorical changes of word meanings, while other parts are simply
comments which add to or explain away from what the Scriptures plainly
teach. The Aramaic paraphrases of the books of the Bible, known as the Targum,
were also of Pharisaic origin.
the Rabbis had so thoroughly twisted the meaning of Scripture, Christ
did not study in their schools:
the days of Christ the town or city that did not provide for the
religious instruction of the young was regarded as under the curse of
God. Yet the teaching had become formal. Tradition had in a great degree
supplanted the Scriptures. True education would lead the youth to
"seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find
Him." Acts 17:27. But the Jewish teachers gave their attention to
matters of ceremony. The mind was crowded with material that was
worthless to the learner, and that would not be recognized in the higher
school of the courts above . . The principles of the law were obscured.
That which was regarded as superior education was the greatest hindrance
to real development. Under the training of the rabbis the powers of the
youth were repressed. Their minds became cramped and narrow.
child Jesus did not receive instruction in the synagogue schools. His
mother was His first human teacher. From her lips and from the scrolls
of the prophets, He learned of heavenly things. The very words which He
Himself had spoken to Moses for Israel He was now taught at His mother's
knee. As He advanced from childhood to youth, He did not seek the
schools of the rabbis. He needed not the education to be obtained from
such sources; for God was His instructor. Desire of Ages, 69-70.
its earliest years the Jewish child was surrounded with the requirements
of the rabbis. Rigid rules were prescribed for every act, down to the
smallest details of life. Under the synagogue teachers the youth were
instructed in the countless regulations which as orthodox Israelites
they were expected to observe. But Jesus did not interest Himself in
these matters. From childhood He acted independently of the rabbinical
laws. The Scriptures of the Old Testament were His constant study, and
the words, "Thus saith the Lord," were ever upon His lips.
the condition of the people began to open to His mind, He saw that the
requirements of society and the requirements of God were in constant
collision. Men were departing from the word of God, and exalting
theories of their own invention. They were observing traditional rites
that possessed no virtue. Their service was a mere round of ceremonies;
the sacred truths it was designed to teach were hidden from the
worshipers. He saw that in their faithless services they found no peace.
They did not know the freedom of spirit that would come to them by
serving God in truth. Jesus had come to teach the meaning of the worship
of God, and He could not sanction the mingling of human requirements
with the divine precepts. He did not attack the precepts or practices
of the learned teachers; but when reproved for His own simple habits, He
presented the word of God in justification of His conduct.
every gentle and submissive way, Jesus tried to please those with whom
He came in contact. Because He was so gentle and unobtrusive, the
scribes and elders supposed that He would be easily influenced by their
teaching. They urged Him to receive the maxims and traditions that had
been handed down from the ancient rabbis, but He asked for their
authority in Holy Writ. He would hear every word that proceeds from the
mouth of God; but He could not obey the inventions of men. Jesus seemed
to know the Scriptures from beginning to end, and He presented them in
their true import. The rabbis were ashamed to be instructed by a child.
They claimed that it was their office to explain the Scriptures, and
that it was His place to accept their interpretation. They were
indignant that He should stand in opposition to their word.
knew that no authority could be found in Scripture for their traditions.
They realized that in spiritual understanding Jesus was far in advance
of them. Yet they were angry because He did not obey their dictates . .
His brothers, as the sons of Joseph were called, sided with the rabbis.
They insisted that the traditions must be heeded, as if they were the
requirements of God. They even regarded the precepts of men more highly
than the Word of God, and they were greatly annoyed at the clear
penetration of Jesus in distinguishing between the false and the true.
His strict obedience to the law of God they condemned as
stubbornness. Desire of Ages, 84-86.
FANATICISM IN THE REFORMATION
thinking that all Scripture can be turned into one vast set of symbols
with strange, hidden meanings, is a species of fanaticism. Persons of excitable
temperament are most easily led into fanaticism (2SM 43).
Satan leads overzealous, unbalanced, and unsanctified minds into
fanaticism (AA 348). It will manifest itself again in different
ways (2SM 44). Fearful waves of will come (2SM 47). Every
phase of fanaticism will press in among believers and unbelievers (MM
114). All the reformers had to meet fanaticism (GC 396).
fanaticism which Satan brought on the German Church in the sixteenth
century, nearly destroyed it.
few men, deeply affected by the excitement in the religious world,
imagined themselves to have received special revelations from Heaven,
and claimed to have been divinely commissioned to carry forward to its
completion the Reformation which, they declared, had been but feebly
begun by Luther. In truth, they were undoing the very work which he had
accomplished. They rejected the great principle which was the very
foundation of the Reformation--that the word of God is the
all-sufficient rule of faith and practice; and for that unerring guide
they substituted the changeable, uncertain standard of their own
feelings and impressions. By this act of setting aside the great
detector of error and falsehood the way was opened for Satan to control
minds as best pleased himself. Great Controversy, 186.
had no desire to encounter the fanatics whose course had been productive
of so great evil. He knew them to be men of unsound judgment and
undisciplined passions, who, while claiming to be specially illuminated
from heaven, would not endure the slightest contradiction or even the
kindest reproof or counsel. Arrogating to themselves supreme authority,
they required everyone, without a question, to acknowledge their
claims. Great Controversy, 190.
LESSONS FROM A CENTURY AGO
his study of the Scriptures, William Miller compared each word in a
passage with others elsewhere, but he was working with actual
meanings; not with hypothesized spiritual meanings.
to lay aside all preconceived opinions, and dispensing with
commentaries, he compared scripture with scripture by the aid of the
marginal references and the concordance. He pursued his study in a
regular and methodical manner; beginning with Genesis, and reading verse
by verse, he proceeded no faster than the meaning of the several
passages so unfolded as to leave him free from all embarrassment. When
he found anything obscure, it was his custom to compare it with every
other text which seemed to have any reference to the matter under
consideration. Every word was permitted to have its proper bearing upon
the subject of the text, and if his view of it harmonized with every
collateral passage, it ceased to be a difficulty. Thus whenever he met
with a passage hard to be understood he found an explanation in some
other portion of the Scriptures. As he studied with earnest prayer for
divine enlightenment, that which had before appeared dark to his
understanding was made clear. He experienced the truth of the psalmist's
words: The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth
understanding unto the simple. Psalm 119:130. Great
Ellen White had to deal with fanaticism and spiritualizing away of
meetings in this place were cheering to the few who loved the truth. We
rejoiced that the Lord in His providence had directed us that way. We
enjoyed the presence of God together, and were comforted to find a few
who had stood firm all through the scattering time, holding fast the
messages of truth through the mist and fog of spiritualizing and
fanaticism. This dear family helped us on our way after a godly
sort. Life Sketches, 115.
the well-known missionary to the Near East, called this fanaticism,
which symbolizes away the meaning of the words of Scripture, phantomizing:
the popular system of interpreting, or misinterpreting, the Scriptures,
Wolff wrote: The greater part of the Christian church have swerved
from the plain sense of Scripture, and have turned to the phantomizing
system of the Buddhists, who believe that the future happiness of
mankind will consist in moving about in the air, and suppose that when
they are reading Jews they must understand Gentiles; and when they read
Jerusalem, they must understand the church; and if it is said earth, it
means sky; and for coming of the Lord they must understand the progress
of the missionary societies; and going up to the mountain of the Lord's
house, signifies a grand class meeting of Methodists. (Journal of
Joseph Wolff, page 96).Great Controversy, 360.
CURRENT EXAMPLES OF SPIRITUALIZING SCRIPTURE
Scripture is not something in the past. It is still being done today.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
should you safeguard yourself and your loved ones:
everything is to be interpreted literally, unless an obvious symbol is
employed; such as you would find in parables or Bible prophecy.
if you want to know the deeper, more detailed meaning of a Bible
passage, read what the Spirit of Prophecy says about that passage. You
will then have a fully-inspired explanation of it.
when someone comes to you, claiming to have new light; most of the time
the new light is keyed to changes in meaning of Scriptural words.
Stick with the obvious, plain meanings given in the Bible, as explained
in the Spirit of Prophecy.
have nothing to do with people who ignore, sidestep, belittle, or set
aside the Spirit of Prophecy. They well know that it is able to
overthrow their errors.
Fifth, as soon as you recognize what is taking place in a meeting, warn others, and then get out of there and take your loved ones with you.