The Complete Revelation Allegory Theory

During the recent post on Lazarus and the rich man, it became apparent that there are some commenters who believe that the entire Book of Revelation is, in fact, to be understood allegorically.

This means every part of the Book has to be interpreted, and that, if none of it is literal, we have no way of determining the thrust of the Book without the input of people who can interpret figurative writing and prophecy. Is there a Daniel in the house?

My take is that it contains all elements of scripture, including allegory, but also literal information, past, present and future, as well as prophetic, poetic writing and types. I fact, I believe that without a solid foundation of literal fact, it is hard to decipher allegory.

If it is a complete work of allegory, how should we proceed with an interpretation of Revelation? Is there a danger, that if we over-allegorise the Book, or any Book of the Bible, we can be led off track, as many of the cults are, by approaching seemingly literal scripture as figurative?

Could some cults claim literal pieces as allegory as a matter of convenience to suit their aims? Could we erroneously claim any doctrinal stance by claiming allegory as proof?

12 thoughts on “The Complete Revelation Allegory Theory

  1. Its not at all clear which parts of the book are allegory, which are literal truths and so on. The book belongs to the tradition of apocalyptic literature, and is written in the form of describing a vision, so one would think it would have more allegorical elements than other books.

    One view which is very common among the mainline and liberal churches, and among most thelogians is that it is describing the churches and politics of the 1st century AD in allegorical form. It is using well-known imagery to discuss church matters and give warnings about falling into error. Apparently this was not able to be written openly or literally for fear of persecution at the time.

    Some books of the bible are more allegorical than others, presumably Song of Songs is complete allegory.

    Yes there is a danger of disregarding truths that are supposed to be taken literally if one interprets allegorically. There is also the reverse danger of interpreting something literally that was supposed to be taken allegorically. The ancient Hebrew, Greek and Roman cultures probably were more rich in symbolism, story and allegory than we are today. The disciplines of science and history, together with the printing press have changed our attitudes to literal fact somewhat, and we are in a less poetic age.

    As I said on the other thread, it is not necessary to have literal fact for allegory to work. It is only necessary to have a well-known and understood common symbolic language. Ie. one person used the allegory of “the Borg” to describe Hillsong and how they “assimilate” people. The allegory works because most people understand the pop-culture reference.

  2. Also, I think that sometimes things are taken as literal instructions and turned into rituals when they refer to something much deeper. Rituals undoubtedly have value when they help us to meditate on or remind us of truths. Sometimes the greater truth is lost.

    Two examples where this is sometimes the case are the altar call and communion.

    The altar call has someone come forward and ‘confess with their mouth’ as part of receiving salvation. The greater truth is that if you believe in your heart, speaking about your faith in Jesus will be a natural result – it is evidence of salvation, not part of the cause of salvation. Still, the ritual can be a helpful start. If treated as something literal alone though, it becomes superstition – I have confessed with my mouth, so Jesus will have to recognise me later on – even if I never confess again.

    Communion has lost much of its original power in many churches, and is regarded as less important than the offering. Instead of a communal meal, it is now a ritual of some kind using tiny wafers and grape juice. There is a literal following of scripture – bread is literally broken up (or just snipped up prior to the service – we don’t even see the breaking with its symbolism) and shared, and wine, or grape juice in its stead (again, often not even seen to be poured from the same container), but it has lost the greater power and symbolism – and relational effect – it had when part of a fellowship eating and drinking together over a meal. Its allegorical meanings and practical power are reduced by taking it to an extreme that conforms to the minimum requirements of a literal reading, and treating the context as unimportant.

  3. In transit! Free interenet at Changi!

    Nice comments, wazza. Does that make Hillsong the Building a Cube? Who are the Trekkers?

    RP, there should be imtimate times in small groups when communion has that more personal sense, but in essence I would agree that Communion could be done better. Maybe a post on this would caste some light on it.

    Have a great week all.

  4. Wazza states:

    “Some books of the bible are more allegorical than others, presumably Song of Songs is complete allegory”

    “…my breasts are like towers, thus I have become in his eyes
    like one bringing contentment..” (Song of Solomon 8:10)

    Nice allegories eh, Wazza. -)

  5. Talking about allegories …

    “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste”. Song of Solomon 2:3

    What do you think this allegory is all about….?

  6. Aaaaay Lionfish!–“refresh me with apples brother” -[yipes!]

    Presumably you have all studied Revelation in various ways over the years;

    It was well-deciphered by the Catholic Church even as early as the Third Century, even though this is not common knowledge to Catholics; yes it was largely allegorical, yet had a perfectly straightforward contemporary interpretation for its 1st century audience.

    Its pretty outrageous to me that so many matters that were once so simply understood in Christendom have had to become totally mystified and complicated, instead of common and simple currency among us.

    Beautifully thought-out Ravingpente; I agree with your sensitivities to ‘lost meanings’ within what we do.

    Strangely enough, the scripture is full of natural ‘checks& balances’ ; for example; “The SUM of Thy word is Truth, and all they Righteous ordinances everlasting” Ps119.

    If any Church or christian studied contextually, then they would not fall into purely allegoric interpretations, and will get grounded very quickly.

    Honestly, if this faith doesnt do us ‘good’, why waste our time? (ahh, what IS good eh?)

    [Ah, Facelift, you must have lots of love, because otherwise you sound like a clanging cymbal]


  7. Coming from one of my favourite comical verses in the bible, is this literal or allegory?

    Exodus 21:25-6

    ‘If you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, so that (AM)your nakedness will not be exposed on it.’

    Wielding eh? Nakedness eh? Profanity eh?

  8. You mean SP,

    Exodus 20:25-26

    Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.
    25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.’

    Sorry, I dont get the comedy of it!–

    I think its fantastic, and gives us some perspective on Solomons Temple later on:

    Clearly, god did not want us banging away to ‘fashion’ his altar of sacrifice; this makes it ‘profane’ or worldly and ordinary.

    Im pretty sure our ‘nakedness’ refers to ‘someone else looking up a mans skirt’ so to speak, if this altar was tall–this simply isnt smart ; maybe this is the comical part, I wonder.

    -LITERAL–its pretty straight-ahead; I cant spot the allegory SP.

    It has always bothered me, as one who loves the OT, that Ive grown up around elaborately ‘wielded altars’ of sacrifice–how then, should we best conduct ourselves in this highly ‘developed & organized society’, if God so loves the primal, raw state of things?

    This was ‘written’ at a time when wrought structures were commonly built-[ie. post- Sumerian]

    Lets speculate:

    WIELDING-God loves his offering upon something we primally fashion out of his own raw stuff. We dont need to shape its building-stones or break it up otherwise; this really says something..

    PROFANITY-If we FASHION it , we make it ordinary, not Holy, according to this word. [How then, does the Tabernacle, and then Temple, differ?-How do these things work in the Hebrew Mind?–if we speculate further, did the Lord want even these places to be ‘recyclable’?–] My translation says ‘defile it’, which means making it unclean for this special service- hmm,

    NAKEDNESS-Do stepping-stones ‘see’?-we know the ‘Earth can cry out’ from Genesis, though I more strongly suspect my theory about the way ‘other people look upon nakedness’, finding it distracting and comical is not something he wants around an altar of worship; its all about the flesh vs the spirit again, I wonder?

    Youre almost prophetic in asking the right questions SP;

    –the answers can be rather disturbing however!

    Please do explain your allegorical view , and its comedic value.


  9. In some translations, such as the one I used, the verses can be quite misinterpreted.
    There is one translation which I haven’t been able to find again that can be easily interpreted to mean the latter.

    Exodus 21:25
    ‘… For if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it. ‘

    Think of ‘tool’ in how that can seriously ‘profane’ the altar.

    Exodus 21:26
    And you shall not go up by steps to My altar, so that your nakedness will not be exposed on it.’

    Now think ‘nakedness’ in terms of why the altar will have no steps for that very reason.
    It’s just the aussie way of chuckling at dumb things that can be misinterpreted to mean something else. Surely you get the groaner now?

    Good expansion on the passage though Zepp. I’ve had an alternate understanding on this passage.

    We know God is unchanging. The things created by God have an essence, quality or characteristic about God. In this instance, the stone or Rock. For the altar to be about him, we need to appreciate Him in his entirity – in his unchanging attributes. For God does dwell among things that are not made by human hands. God made the rock the way it is, why deface it or defile it for what God made it to be? To not express the rawness and realities of God, what we make the Rock to be in our limited but ‘fashioned’ understanding would be considered ‘profanity’.

    And though it was God that originally made man naked, it was Him who clothed us. Not for his sake, but for our sake. Before him, he does want us to be ‘naked’ before him – real, raw, open, exposed, lost, amazed, desperate, in love, etc. Whatever we feel or are caught up in, he likes to be a part of it all. He sees us just like the undefiled stones because we refuse to be chiseled and shaped into the ways of man but rather shaped by His hands. he loves that intimacy he created us to have with him.

  10. anyways. I de-railed this. sorry. back to revelations!
    i believe that the day of the lord is the 1000 year reign of Christ. A literal reign.

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