…is they aren’t, at least not consistently.
It’s a bit of a hollow argument really and one that should probably be excluded from the discourse of eschatology, i.e. “end times” Bible prophecy, but so often the refrain from both futurists and preterists, is that the opponents don’t take the scriptures literally.
For those who subscribe to the popular yet untenable prophecy taught in many, indeed most, churches and certainly on religious television, the charge is that preterists – people who believe that most if not all prophecy was fulfilled long ago – spiritualize the text.
Contrariwise, preterists indict futurists – people who believe that most if not all Bible prophecy has yet to be fulfilled in the future of today’s generation – for ignoring words which indicate the timing of when certain prophetic events are said to come to pass.
In truth, the Bible is all literal. To understand this concept, simply apply Webster’s primary definition of literal which is: “according [or in accordance] with the letter of the scriptures.” Definitions 2 and 3 are however certainly just as applicable: “adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression” and finally, “free from exaggeration or embellishment.”
Futurists claim to live by the “Golden Rule of Interpretation” when it comes to developing their system of eschatology. The rule reads like this:
“When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.”
Pretty lofty ideals for individuals who advance such ideas as the ancient weapons of warfare used in the book of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 are in fact post-modern weaponry. Bows and arrows aren’t really bows and arrows; they must be intercontinental ballistic missiles. After all, they argue, those chapters are dealing with the “battle of Armageddon” which is still in the future.
One futurist of some notoriety once claimed that the locusts in Revelation (chapter 9, verses 1-12) could actually be referring to U.S. Cobra attack helicopters. And THIS is supposed to be a literal interpretation, superior in form and function to those pesky spiritualizers?
Meanwhile the same expositors gloss over words which indicate certain events where near in time with respect to when they were written by explaining away time referents, such as near, shortly, quickly, (see Revelation chapters 1 and 22) and so forth by regurgitating a totally irrelevant passage (2 Peter 3:8) which says, “…with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.”
How this is supposed to render soon, near, at hand, quickly, shortly and other words and phrases to mean the opposite of what they literally mean is anyone’s guess.
In reality the Bible, God’s voice on earth, is a piece of literature that is very direct in its meaning and truth. The truth is frequently given in signs, symbols, (see Revelation 1:1 KJV) metaphoric language, and hyperbole.
The only question that should be considered is whether or not the understanding is taken from a studious perusal of the scriptures, comparing related passages with one another, or by reading the preconceptions of pop-prophecy into the text.
One thing for certain, believing concepts like “bows and arrows are ICBMs, locusts are helicopters,” etc., is interpreting the Bible literally, then attacking others for spiritualizing passages because they take time words seriously is in a word disingenuous.