Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)
A young woman wrote me and claimed that God told her that the Bible is allegory. She claimed that people misinterpret the Bible when they take it literally. “The Lord” told her that the creation account recorded in Genesis represents later events in the Bible. I suppose, if she received a word from God, then it must be true. However, is she right, and did she really receive this instruction from God?
Volumes have been written and reams of paper spent defending the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible. The problem of misinterpretation comes when people think they know what the Bible says, without really knowing what it says. The Bible is very clear and easily understood on its own without any kind of special interpretation. The problem is that people often do not like what it has to say, so they interpret it to say what they want it to say. As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
That said, the Bible does employ allegory sometimes. For example, Ezekiel saw a valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37), and God told Ezekiel to preach to the dry bones. When he did, the bones came together, and flesh and skin came on the bones. However, there was no breath in them (Ezekiel 37:8). God instructed Ezekiel to preach to them once more and breath came on them and they rose up “and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (Ezekiel 37:10). Then God explained what Ezekiel saw (vv. 11-14). The bones represent the nation of Israel, which God will gather from all over the world and restore to their land, but when they come, the Spirit of God will not be in them. God will then put His Spirit in them “that they may live” again. This prophecy is an allegory of Israel in the last days. That prophecy was fulfilled on May 14, 1948, when Israel was reborn as a nation. However, God’s Spirit is not yet in them – they are still spiritually dead. Many Jews in Israel are atheists. Those who are not, still look for the coming of their Messiah. My point, however, is that this is one good example of allegory in the Bible.
Not all of the Bible is allegory. When an allegory is presented, it is very clear that it is an allegory, and it usually comes with an explanation. When you understand that, and compare an allegory, as in the example above, to the creation narrative in Genesis, it should be obvious that the creation account is not an allegory, nor is it Hebrew poetry. Genesis records a matter-of-fact account of creation. It is a historical narrative. Now, what you do with that is up to you; you can choose to accept it, or you may choose to reject it, but you cannot call it an allegory.
This young woman said, “The Lord told me it represents later events in the Bible.” I cautioned her that it may not be “the Lord” speaking because He will not lead us to doubt any of His Word. The Bible says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It cannot be “profitable” for doctrine, correction, or instruction if it is all allegorical. One can make of an allegory whatever one imagines, and not everybody imagines the same thing. In the example of Ezekiel’s dry bones above, it should be noted that God Himself explains the allegory. In the same way, Jesus always explained His parables to His disciples; He did not leave it up to them to determine the meaning of the allegory.
God’s Word is precise, not allegorical. Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). The “jot” (Hebrew letter yod – י) is the smallest letter in the letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The “tittle” is the smallest marking on a Hebrew letter that distinguishes it from another similar looking letter, for example, the difference between the resh (ר) and the dalet (ד). Jesus was not speaking in allegory. He spoke matter-of-factly and authoritatively. Again He said, “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17). Such emphatic statements cannot be true of allegories because allegories by themselves are up for interpretation.
God would not make His Word ambiguous through allegory if He means for it to be fulfilled to the smallest mark of the text. However, I know who would – Satan. From the very beginning, his tactics remain the same. Consider carefully at the account of the Fall (Genesis 3:1-5). “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Genesis 3:1), This is not written as an allegory; it is written as a matter-of-fact. Note that the first thing Satan does is to introduce doubt in God’s Word – “Yea, hath God said…?” To paraphrase: “Did God really say that or was it just allegorical?” His next step is to call God’s Word a lie. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). God told Adam he would die (Genesis 2:17), if he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and here Satan says that is not true. Again, to paraphrase: “You are not going to die. That was just an allegory. God did not really mean you were going to die.” That set the stage for Satan’s third tactic – to charge God with dishonest and dishonorable motives. “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). To paraphrase once more: “God wants to keep something good from you. He knows that if you eat of the fruit, you will be like gods, and you will know as much as He does, and He does not want that for you.” King Solomon said, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Satan has not changed from the beginning of time, and he still uses the same tactics to cast doubt on God’s Word.
No, the LORD God is not going to tell you that His Word is just an allegory and that you can interpret any way you think. God says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:7-9).
The Bible is not allegory. God makes His Word abundantly clear. The Bible does “contain” allegory, but where allegory is given, the interpretation follows close behind. Certainly, there are some things that are difficult to understand, as Mark Twain noted, however, most of it is plain enough. “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). “Those things which are revealed” are plain enough for us to understand. They are not allegories that we must puzzle out. God reveals His Word to us clearly so that we can know Him intimately. He will not veil His Word in allegory so that every individual gets a different “insight” into what it says. God’s Word is precise. It is matter-of-fact. Our task is to accept God’s Word for what it says, not for what we think it says.