Literalism is the method of interpretation favoured by Dispensationalists, but it leads to a superficial view of the prophecies of scripture, which are often given in metaphors, symbols, and parables. A literalist view of prophecies given as metaphors and parables would miss the true meaning that was intended by the Spirit.
Consider the following verses written by Paul.
1 Timothy 4:1-5
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
Now the word translated "meats" (brwmatwn) does not mean animal flesh, but simply "solid food." A person who abstains from solid food is limited to a liquid diet. That is the plain, literal meaning of the text, but it would make little sense, so there must be a deeper meaning intended here. Was the Spirit showing that false teachers would promote a simplistic, superficial form of the Gospel, that missed many of the deeper, underlying truths? Such a view would lead to a superficial, immature form of Christianity, one that had "a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof."
Taking the above verses of 1 Timothy 4 literally, one would think it was about people who would come, teaching about what foods can be eaten, and what must be avoided. There are vegetarians, for example, who avoid eating animal flesh. Paul goes on to say that the foods subject to censure were created by God, to be received with thanksgiving, by them that believe the truth. What does the truth of the Gospel have to do with our diet? The truth is, our food preferances are not particularly significant. Paul said:
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
And was Paul saying that every sort of food is ok to eat? Some things that God created, if we eat them, will make us sick, for example, in North America, poisonous plants include hyacinth, narcissus, daffodil bulbs, oleander leaves, dieffenbachia, rosary pea, castor bean seeds, larkspur, crocus bulbs, lily-of-the-valley, iris, foxglove, rhubarb leaf, daphne berries, wisteria seeds, laurels, rhododendrons, azaleas, jasmine berries, yew berries, oaks, elderberry, mistletoe, hemlock, nightshade, buttercups.
Was Paul ignorant of poisonous plants in nature? Paul would surely have known of several poisonous plants similar to the ones mentioned above. But he said all the "foods" God created for us are to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. Apparently he was not telling us that these deadly things were ok to eat, but he meant something else. The teaching that we should abstain from meats or foods must be a metaphor, as arguments about foods and diet are of minor consequence.
If these false teachers tell people to abstain from "solid food," they limit themselves to a liquid diet, such as one would feed to babies; in other words, milk. "Milk" and "meat" (or solid food, victuals) are metaphors used elsewhere in the NT.
1 Peter 2:2
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
The false teachers tell people to abstain from "solid food," they have to limit themselves to a liquid diet, such as one would feed to babies. They take superficial, strictly literalist approah, and deny the deeper, spiritual one. The word of God includes both "milk" and "meat." The author of Hebrews said those who use only "milk" are babes.
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Perhaps this explains what the prophecy in 1 Timothy 4:3 means. The teachers who listen to seducing spirits command people to abstain from the figurative or symbolic interpretations of prophetic scripture, and they say, "stick to the literal interpretation." And false teachers "forbid to marry" by giving heed to seducing spirits, which separate people from the body of Christ. Because of this, many have disqualified themselves from participating in glorious wedding of the bride of christ, which is the church.
Isaiah said, that for one to be taught of God, he has to be "weaned from the milk."
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
The "milk" represents basic things about God's word, that are relatively easy to understand and believe. They are the essentials of the Gospel, and are thoroughly explained and understood by most Christians.
Solid food, or "strong meat" is for those who are more mature in the faith. Prophecy is often given in the form of parables, metaphors, and symbols, and many prophecies are also riddles. These take some figuring out. But the scripture is its own interpreter.
Those who insist on "abstaining from meats" treat the whole bible as "milk." They take it literally, as though it needs no interpretation. They give heed to "seducing spirits," who deceive many, and their victims are the stars cast down to the earth in Revelation 12:4, saints who are drawn by the "tail of the dragon."
Isaiah said the "tail" represents false prophets.
The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.
Copyright © 2010 by Douglas E. Cox
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