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Study of Symbolic Language


Arranged below are three columns of Scriptures which contain the word "earth." These samplings are purposely listed in three columns to point out the seeming contradictions. One column contains Scriptures which state that the earth will be destroyed. The second column contains texts which show that the earth will not be destroyed. The last column entries imply that there will be a new earth. Read these texts before proceeding:

Earth Destroyed Earth Remains New Earth
Matthew 24:35 Matthew 6:10 2 Peter 3:13
Hebrews 1:10, 11 Ecclesiastes 1:4 Revelation 21:1
Zephaniah 3:8 Matthew 5:5
Isaiah 45:18
Psalm 104:5

This listing is still based on the idea that an examination by TOPIC is of foremost importance. From this chart, however, it is clear that topical study by itself is not always adequate to eliminate contradiction. Note the importance of two more methods of Scripture study: study of symbolic language and study by time frame.

It is clear that a literal interpretation of the foregoing texts about the earth results only in confusion and contradiction. When topical study by itself does not clear up interpretation, it becomes necessary to discover the presence of symbolic meaning in the words being used. How is this done?

Perhaps the first test is to apply the obvious possibilities to all of the texts involved. In this case (with the word earth), suppose:

-- All words "earth" suggesting good things must be symbolic of heaven.

-- All words "earth" suggesting bad things must be literal and really mean the earth.

If this doesn’t work (and it doesn’t), try the opposite:

-- All words "earth" suggesting good things must be literal and really mean the earth.

-- All words "earth" suggesting bad things must be symbolic and must mean something else.

This does work. Then, a diligent comparison of prophetic texts containing the word "earth" used symbolically reveals that its symbolic meaning is "the political-social order." Once the correct symbolism is found, it always works. This is, indeed, a comforting reassurance of the accuracy of interpretation.

To show the richness of the information found by utilization of proper symbolisms, it will be beneficial to examine 2 Peter 3 which makes multiple use of this word "earth."

In this chapter, Peter makes reference to:

-- the "world that then was" (vs. 6)

-- "the heavens and the earth which are now" (vs. 7)

-- and "a new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (vs. 13)

Peter here introduces words which we have not yet considered, and the careful student will submit these words — world, heaven, fire — also to exhaustive topical investigation.

Our conclusions, based on the topical and symbolic study methods, clarify this chapter easily:

The "world (political-social order) that then was (before the flood) perished." (But the literal earth itself remains.) Peter, as he continues, wishes to differentiate between rulers and the ruled and, hence, divides the symbolic "world" into "heaven" (the ruling powers) and "earth" (the social order). Thus "the heavens and the earth (entire political-social arrangement) which are now (ever since the flood) are reserved unto fire (destruction — of the order, not the people: the earth still remains). Nevertheless, we, according to His promise, look for a new heavens (new government ruled by Christ) and a new earth (social arrangement) wherein dwelleth righteousness." 2 Peter 3:6, 7, 13

Now (with the proper symbols to eradicate contradictions) the promises of the Bible relative to the earth take on new meaning:

-- The meek shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

-- Thy will be done in earth. (Matthew 6:10)

-- On earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14)

-- The earth abideth forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4)

The Bible tells a comprehensive picture without contradiction. Though it seemed to say both that the earth would be destroyed and that the earth would not be destroyed, a careful study shows that it was cleverly telling a consistent story. It was using the kind of symbolism President Woodrow Wilson used in World War I when he stated, "The world is on fire!" What he meant was easily understood. The Bible symbolism is just as obvious if it is not approached with preconceptions.