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Biblical Symbolism

by Staff
Forerunner, "Bible Study," April 1999

Many people in the "Christian" world feel they understand the Bible. Tens of thousands of books, major commentaries, Bible dictionaries and prophetic writings explain and re-explain it, by thesis and exegesis. How much of this is real understanding?

If the Bible is so easy to understand, why are there so many varying opinions? Why do equally brilliant scholars come up with diametrically opposed explanations? Denominations have innumerable disagreements on virtually every part of God's Word.

The Bible is full of imagery. It is self-proclaimed to be written in parables, riddles, symbols, similitudes, allegories and analogies, and there are good reasons for this. To probe these depths, Forerunner will devote several studies to understanding the Bible's language and imagery.

1. What is a parable? Matthew 13:34-35.

Comment: "Parable" (Gk. parabole, Strong's #3850 from #3846) is a "similitude, i.e. (symbol.) fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral), apothegm or adage." In the KJV this Greek word is rendered "comparison," "figure," "parable," and "proverb." Thus, a parable is not a straightforward description of an event just as it occurred or will occur. It is intended to be similar to a real event, a comparison that has to be interpreted to reveal the true meaning.

2. Why are parables used? Why not "just the facts"? Matthew 13:9-17; Isaiah 28:9-13; Mark 4:11-13; Proverbs 26:7; Romans 11:32-33.

Comment: Christ did not speak in parables to make the meaning clear to just any reader! From the very beginning, God has supervised the writing of the Bible so that it cannot be understood without outside help. Even prophets and righteous men of old did not understand, nor did the multitudes who heard the parables of Christ. According to Romans 11, the meaning is veiled from most of mankind until the day God offers them salvation. They are relegated to unbelief until a later time (i.e. the Millennium or Great White Throne Judgment), lest they rebel and must be destroyed.

3. Who, then, can understand? John 6:44; 14:26; Luke 8:9-10; 12:30-32; I Corinthians 1:25-29; Matthew 11:25; Romans 10:13-17.

Comment: God has set up a system to call, convert and educate a people for Himself. They are a minority, very few in number. They are not mighty, noble and learned, but the weak of the world. God calls them and gives them His Spirit and teachers to help them understand. Of all people on earth, only they have a chance to understand the Bible.

4. Another word for parable is "similitude." How does the Bible define this word? How should we view similitudes? Deuteronomy 4:16; Psalm 106:20; James 3:9; Romans 5:14; I Corinthians 10:11; Hosea 12:10; Galatians 6:16.

Comment: A similitude is a similarity, a comparison, a likeness, a shadow—essentially the same as a parable. Paul says all the Old Testament accounts are written for our understanding today. Hosea writes that the prophets spoke to us in similitudes or similarities. Thus, what happened to Israel and Judah in the prophecies applies in principle to the church today, the New Testament "Israel of God." Further, what is occurring in the church today is similar to what is occurring and prophesied to occur in the physical nations of Israel. It may not unfold in exactly the same detail, but very similarly. What understanding this concept opens up to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear!

5. What is an allegory? Does it further solidify and underscore the relevance of physical-spiritual types? Galatians 4:19-31.

Comment: Webster's Dictionary defines allegory as "to speak figuratively, a symbolic representation." Unger's Bible Dictionary defines it as expressing or explaining one thing under the image of another and showing a second and deeper meaning than would seem apparent. Again, it is similar to a parable.

Paul—addressing the New Testament church, which he calls "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16)—shows that the Old Covenant points to and helps explain the New. He writes that Jerusalem is a figure, forerunner, type and present-day symbol of the New Covenant and church today (see also Hebrews 12:22-23, Romans 9:1-8; I Peter 2:9). We can then read both the history and prophecy regarding Jerusalem, the physical capital of Israel, and apply it to the church, the spiritual "Jerusalem, . . . mother of us all."

6. The use of the word "key" is another proof that much biblical understanding is locked away from all but a few who have access to the key or keys. What is a "key"? Luke 11:52; Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7; Matthew 16:19; Psalm 51.

Comment: A key is "that which opens." Men can lock away understanding through their own selfishness and deception. The keys to open understanding are contained in Christ. He gives those keys to whom He will. He gave them to Peter and the apostles and also to the Philadelphia era of the New Testament church.

The church today must use the "key of David" to unlock the secrets of proper administration, unity and understanding. After several years as king, David began to administer the kind of government the Gentiles were famous for abusing. He raised himself above the law and killed his enemies, like Uriah, with no conscience. The last half of Psalm 51 shows a repentant man with an entirely changed attitude and approach to others, an administration God could use to unify Israel and "build the walls of Jerusalem." That ministers and members alike grasp this "key of [a converted] David" is vital to building a united, peaceful church today, which will be done (Haggai 2:9).

God, having hidden the meaning of the mystery of the ages from this world, has revealed it to us. The Bible's symbolic language greatly enhances our understanding of the wonderful Kingdom of God!

© 1999 Church of the Great God
PO Box 471846
Charlotte, NC  28247-1846
(803) 802-7075


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