The Bible contains allegory, but when it does it also is evident in the passage. Along with legalism I think there is a strong correlation between the practice of twisting Bible passages into allegory and heretical teachings and cults.
We can look at the history of Christianity since the apostles and we will see a reoccurring pattern between allegory and heresy. The first heretics of Christianity were legalists that wanted to put Jews that found the Messiah back under Jewish law. Soon after, we know that Gnostic heretics became a plague within Christianity. They made scriptures allegorical so it would comply with their old and new mystical beliefs. It seems most heresy either comes from legalism or from some allegorical interpretation of passages in scripture that should be taken in a common literal sense.
Throughout the history of Christianity we have had those that went beyond the common literal contextual meaning of the Bible to develop strange theologies. The Roman Catholics are legalistic on some interpretations of scripture but on others they make the passage allegory without any reason other than doing so supports church decrees.
Armed with allegorical Replacement Theology and Catholic Dominion Theology the Roman Catholic hierarchy persecuted Jews and scripture believing Christians. Even today, the Roman Catholic Church still thinks that they rule the Kingdom of Christ on earth. This claim is rooted in their legalistic and allegorical twisting of the scriptures. So does that abuse of scripture put the huge Roman Catholic Church in the category of a heretical cult? I will let you be the judge. If you need any help, I suggest you read “A Woman Rides the Beast”, by Dave Hunt.
One day a Catholic monk named Martin Luther appeared. He took scripture more literally than the Roman Church of his day and presented them with 95 theses that opposed what they claimed. Rome of course rejected what Luther and scripture said and Protestantism rose in opposition to Catholicism.
The early Protestants tried to stay true to the scriptures, but since there were prophetic passages that they did not understand, they retained the claim that these scriptures should be taken in a spiritual or allegorical sense.
Both the Catholics and most Protestants created elaborate theologies to support their belief that scripture is only fulfilled in the spiritual body that started with the first human believer. That generally is now the crux of a system now known as Covenant Theology. The allegory used in Covenant Theology was mainly used on eschatological passages for Israel but their allegorical view of these passages also impacts other theologies.
In Covenant Theology true believers that were in ancient Israel are part of the Church. Therefore, they say that any passages referring to any future restoration of Israel is really allegorical information about the spiritual Church. They say that now that Jesus has come and established His spiritual kingdom He cut off the Jewish nation that rejected Him. This paved the way for heretical Replacement Theology where Jews were seen as Christ killers and a people cursed and evil. That view paved the road for persecution of Jews by even those calling themselves Christians.
Some in Covenant Theology do see a time ahead where Jews will be saved just before the end, but they see no earthly significance to the scriptural passages that in any common sense reading are talking about a literal physical restoration of the nation of Israel and a literal restored Israelite Kingdom.
After the printing press was invented, the Bible got into the hands of common people and they read the Bible in a common sense way. They read the Bible as if God wrote it to be understood by those reading it. Many of those reading the Bible first hand no longer bought into the concept that the Bible needed to be interpreted by clergy.
The common sense reading of the Bible caused new Christian leaders to emerge that taught that any literal honest interpretation of the scriptures said that there would one day be a restoration of a literal national Israel. They understood that scripture teaches that there will be a restored literal Jewish Kingdom on earth and that Jesus will rule it from Jerusalem in Israel. The common reading and the belief that the Bible should be read and interpreted in a literal natural sense, except where it was obviously not literal, brought about Dispensational Theology and the creation of new denominations. Some existing denominations also became influenced by the common sense interpretation of scripture.
Dispensational Theology claimed that God dealt differently with people in different dispensations of time to accomplish His own purpose on earth. These Christians saw a distinction between the covenant that Israel make with God that put Israel under Law, and the new covenant of grace to all trusting in Jesus apart from the Law. In Dispensational Theology, Israel remains distinct from those grafted into the New Covenant and Abrahamic promises that Israel has not yet received because of her unbelief and temporary blindness. God still has unbreakable covenants with national Israel that still must be literally fulfilled.
In the 20th century, leaders of old mainline denominations were not satisfied at just taking prophetic scriptures as allegory. They started taking anything that did not seem reasonable to them as being open to man’s higher criticism. The seminars and Bible colleges that taught higher criticism produced clergy that questioned if the words in the Bible were actually what God meant or even if they were inspired by God at all. This liberalism with the scriptures often led Christian leaders to believe and teach that the Bible should not be taken literally. Some claim it is just a guide for living. This brought to Christianity many liberal heresies and heretics that denied anything supernatural in the Bible. Today these generally oppose God’s plan for Israel and generally take a liberal (unbiblical) humanist (Marxist) worldview on moral issues.
To make a long story short. The liberals of mainline churches continued on their heretical ways. The members are now in general spiritual apostasy from the true Christian faith. Those believing God’s word in a common literal sense left these mainline churches and became known as fundamentalists and later Evangelicals. However, soon even in the Evangelical churches, some leaders used certain passages allegorically to support popular but aberrant views. Books with doctrines of psychotherapy, pop-psychology, self-help theories, etc., often were taught and scriptures were ripped out of proper context to make it seem like the views were supported by the Bible.
Of course for many decades we have also had the “Christian” cults that go way beyond any literal reading of the Bible. They formed their own allegorical interpretations of Bible passages to force fit them into some modern extra-biblical revealed truth. For example: Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Science, Unity, etc.
The Pentecostal movement also came from those who took the Bible literally, but it did not take long for more allegorical leaders to split that movement as well. There are now the Pentecostals that try to keep God’s word in proper context (for example: Calvary Chapels, some Assemblies of God, etc.) and there are those that use passages allegorically to support new and subjective physiological manifestations and doctrines (for example: Word/Faith churches, most Vineyards, etc.).
More recently we see a new breed of heretical leaders emerging with their postmodern views. They are splitting the Evangelical movement into those who still take the Bible literally and the New-Evangelicals that are redefining everything in God’s word. They make allegorical claims much like the heretics of Gnosticism and mainline liberals. Worse, they are also pushing toward heretical pluralistic universalism with an “all paths theology” and even pantheism.
Also among the “Evangelical” postmoderns we find a new push toward soft Dominion Theology from those that buy into the basic goodness of man and Marxist/socialism. They downplay biblical doctrine as if Christianity was just one allegorical truth among many truths that all eventually leads to a socialist utopia on earth, achieving the Kingdom of God on earth.
In addition, we see the allegory of various Liberation Theologies that make God a racist. There also is a hard Dominion Theology coming from allegorical heretics best known as the “New Apostolic Reformation”. They have their own allegorical twisting of God’s word and their claims of direct revelation. They appeal to Christian patriots and conservatives and lead them to believe that Christians will physically take the world for Christ. They teach Christians need to take dominion of the earth by force before Jesus can even return. We also have the heretical date setters in Bible prophecy that see allegorical timelines through various cryptic techniques that I am not going to rehash in this article.
I obviously have broad-bushed and generalized a lot here because I have to be brief. Much more could be said but you should get my main point. There is a long pattern or relationship between those in Christianity that like to over allegorize scriptures and most heresy. Heretical movements start when people depart from a common sense literal interpretation of God’s word. Heretical movements are fueled by those that put their own meaning on passages that are perfectly clear in any common reading. The allegorists have been creating heretical movements since the days of the apostles and it will only end with the destruction of the Harlot of Revelation chapter 17.
While I am on the subject of heresy, do you want to know why Christendom is in big trouble today? Just read this article by T.A. McMahon and you will get an inkling. Understand that “Christianity Today” was started and is endorsed by some of the biggest names in Protestant Christianity today. If you also read what is said about Billy Graham in this article, you will realize that there has been a radical change in his thinking since his early days as an evangelist. .
Editor note: this is a modified version of my article written on Aug 3, 2010. It is posted on my old blog.