Two Competing Models for Interpreting the Bible: New Creation or Spiritual Vision

Michael J. Vlach’s book, The New Creation Model, contrasts these two models and demonstrates why the New Creation model offers a more consistent and biblical approach to interpreting Scripture than the Spiritual Vision model.

The New Creation and Spiritual Vision models describe two competing approaches to understanding the Scriptures, particularly in the areas of understanding God’s purposes in creating all things and His plan for the future. The New Creation model emphasizes a bodily existence on a new or renewed earth, based primarily on a literal grammatical-historical understanding of God’s promises to saints of the past and His prophecies of the future. As its name implies, the Spiritual Vision model emphasizes spiritual truths and tends to spiritualize passages that seem to speak of physical realities that God has in store for His creation, particularly for Israel.

The Spiritual Vision model has certainly been the most popular view throughout church history, and it has strongly influenced the way many pastors and theologians have interpreted the Scriptures. This view arose as Platonic ideas infiltrated the church. Followers of Plato, and later the Neo-Platonists following Plotinus (c. 3rd century AD), believed in a cosmic dualism that viewed spiritual things as pure or better than the physical realm, which is seen as irredeemably corrupt.1 As the church spread in the Hellenized world, many believers applied this Neo-Platonic concept to the earthly promises made to the Jewish people. Given the expulsion of the Jewish people from the land of Israel following the Bar Kokhba revolt (c. AD 132–135), it is partly understandable why some Christians sought to interpret the term Israel in a non-literal manner. After all, Jewish cities had been leveled and rebuilt as Roman cities, the Jews were no longer in the land, and Gentiles made up the vast majority of churchgoers. However, the reestablishment of Israel as a Jewish nation in 1948 has provided strong evidence that such a reinterpretation should never have been made.

Nevertheless, adherents of the Spiritual Vision model downplay the significance of Old Testament prophecies about the land of Israel or any future earthly rule of the Messiah in Jerusalem during the Millennium by claiming that Jesus has already fulfilled all these prophecies and is currently reigning. Since Jesus supposedly fulfilled them, then these prophecies are either ignored or the meaning is spiritualized and transferred to the church. These ideas are common among amillennialists, and to a lesser degree, at least regarding Israel, postmillennialists. In doing this, they demonstrate how the Spiritual Vision model thinks too small about God’s plans in that they make human salvation the central focus of God’s working in human history. Truly, this is an important and extremely relevant topic, but there is much more to Scripture than the salvation of humans—the Bible speaks of the restoration of all things and the whole of creation groaning under sin and waiting to be delivered from it.

In his book titled Heaven, Randy Alcorn detailed many of the problems with Christians imbibing Platonic and Neo-Platonic ideas. Describing it as Christoplatonism, he stated, “Tragically, the allegorical method of interpretation—rooted in explicitly unchristian assumptions—came to rule the church’s theology…Even today, commentaries and books on Heaven seem to automatically regard all Scripture about Heaven as figurative.”2 He then cited Leon Morris’ comments on Revelation’s description of the New Jerusalem having streets of gold and enormous pearls for gates. Morris claimed that “we must not understand that the heavenly city will be as material as present earthly cities.”3 Yet, from a historical-grammatical approach to Scripture, there is no reason to doubt that John’s vision of the New Jerusalem should be interpreted as anything but a physical city descending to the new earth. Morris’ statement provides a good example of how the Spiritual Vision model has led to some severe misunderstandings of man’s eternal destiny. For example, Christians often speak of going to heaven to dwell with the Lord eternally, and many people conceive of this as being some sort of boring ethereal existence, but these ideas are not found in the Bible, which plainly teaches a future bodily resurrection of the saints who will dwell in the new heavens and new earth.

On the other hand, the New Creation model stresses that God is pleased to redeem and restore all aspects of His creation rather than essentially limiting his work to the salvation of man. Relying upon the historical-grammatical hermeneutic, New Creation advocates believe the Old Testament land and kingdom promises to Israel remain in effect and need not be reinterpreted. Isaiah wrote about a coming time when the wolf and lamb would feed together and the lion would eat straw like the ox (Is. 65:25; 11:6). At that time, the lifespans of individuals will be greatly expanded, perhaps similar to those prior to the flood (Isa. 65:20). The same is true with prophecies in the New Testament. Jesus said that His disciples would eat and drink in His kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:30). And He also said that Elijah was “coming first and will restore all things” (Matt. 17:11). Peter echoed this theme of restoration in telling his fellow countrymen that Jesus was received into heaven “until the times of restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). Paul taught that the “creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption…” (Rom. 8:21) and that God was reconciling “all things” to Himself (Col. 1:20). Revelation 21–22 describe this restoration in detail as John describes the vision of the new heaven and new earth that he was given. The Bible also describes time passing, as well as people eating and drinking on the new earth, but these things would be somewhat pointless in if one’s eternal existence was merely spiritual. The New Creation model sees no need to reinterpret the plain meaning of these various promises.

Furthermore, the New Creation model is consistent with God’s purposes in creation. He made a world full of life on which man was made to rule. He made an unfathomably large universe full of stars, and while his focus is on the earth (Ps. 8:4), it does not make sense that out of all the incredible things He made, His is only interested in redeeming the souls of men. This makes even less sense in light of all the passages that speak of a restored creation with man and beast living in a harmonious world ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Regarding the resurrection of the dead, the Bible makes it clear that all people will be raised from the dead (Dan. 12:2; Rev. 20:4–5). Believers will receive a transformed, glorified body (1 Cor. 15:42–44). However, what good would a glorified physical body be in a spiritual eternity? The doctrine of man’s resurrection makes better sense within the New Creation model where the redeemed dwell in the physical New Jerusalem in their glorified physical bodies.

The New Creation model yields a far more consistent reading of Scripture than does the Spiritual Vision model. It does not force the reader to reinterpret the plain meaning of biblical prophecies about the land of Israel and the kingdom promised to the Jewish people. It also presents a much grander view of God’s plan of redemption wherein He is working to reconcile all things to Himself rather than redeeming just a fraction of human beings. As such, the New Creation model portrays God as more glorious and more trustworthy.

  1. I believe the strong Calvinist’s understanding of total depravity also stems from this Neo-Platonic dualism. Man certainly inherits a sinful nature from Adam, but it does not follow that “evil pervades every faculty of his soul and every sphere of his life. He is unable to do a single thing that is good” as Edwin Palmer stated in The Five Points of Calvinism. However, Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (Luke 11:13). He also said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things.” (Matt. 12:35). Unregenerate people are still made in God’s image and are capable of doing good and evil. However, no amount of good deeds can merit salvation because they are guilty of sinning against God and require His grace and forgiveness. 

  2. Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), Appendix A 

  3. Leon Morris, The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 235–236. 

Why Do Modern Bibles Mention Jackals Instead of Dragons?

Have you ever wondered why certain Bible translations mention jackals where some older ones mention dragons?

Recently, after giving a presentation at the Creation Museum, a person asked me why many newer Bible translations include the word jackal instead of dragon in a number of Old Testament verses. For example, Job 30:29a in the King James Version states, “I am a brother to dragons…” while the same verse in the New King James Version reads, “I am a brother of jackals…” Why did this change occur? Is it because modern translation committees have been influenced by evolutionary thinking and refuse to consider using a word that could possibly refer to a dinosaur, as some creationists have contended? Nope. That’s not the reason. Although some creationists have made this claim, so this serves as an important reminder to be careful not to make false claims about fellow believers, which is the same as lying about them. So, why did this change take place? The short answer is that the newer translations are correct, and the older translations conflated some similar-looking words that have very different meanings.

[Note: this discussion is not about the seven-headed red dragon seen by John in a vision in Revelation. That dragon clearly represented Satan, as we are told in Revelation 12:9, but although that discussion is important, it has very little bearing on this topic.]

Understanding the meaning of the terms translated as dragon has been a point of confusion for some biblical creationists. This is due in part to the idea that some of the dragon legends from ancient cultures were probably based on real encounters with what we now call dinosaurs. I think a good case can be made for this conclusion in certain legends, and I make this point in my dinosaur presentation. Thus, it makes sense why some biblical creationists would see the word dragon in older Bibles as support for the idea that dinosaurs and man were made on the same day of the creation week (Day 6). However, these two concepts are not interdependent. That is, if these older versions of the Old Testament were mistaken when translating certain words as dragon, it would not rule out the possibility that some dragon legends were based on human interaction with dinosaurs. For example, I believe the most likely explanation for behemoth (Job 40:15–24) is that it was a sauropod dinosaur or something similar.

Because of the confusion that has existed on the topic, in 2012 Ken Ham requested a definitive article on the topic for Answers in Genesis. At first, I wrote a basic article that essentially stated what I had read from other creationists—that the words tannin and tannim were two varieties of a word that referred to serpentine creatures that could be on land or in the water and could even refer to dinosaurs or dinosaur-like creatures. After a couple of Hebrew language experts told me that this wasn’t correct, I decided to keep digging. I quickly discovered that these two words are different and refer to very different things, even though they look nearly the same. In fact, one of these is singular and the other is plural. I had made the mistake of relying on others who did not know Hebrew and had never done a careful study of these words. So, I ended up writing a much longer article that included a breakdown of every single use of tannin and tannim in the Old Testament, and it became painfully obvious that the words referred to different creatures. This time, the Hebrew language experts approved the article. It was posted on the Answers in Genesis website on August 8, 2012. You can read my detailed article here, and you’ll see that it addresses three objections to this position, I want to offer a quick summary of my findings here.

Simply put, tannin and tannim are two different words that were mistakenly treated as the same term in many older Bibles. A very simple comparison will show why this view is outdated.

  • Tannin – (singular noun used with singular verbs) This word describes what Aaron’s rod became when he threw it down in front of Pharaoh (Exodus 7:10), and it is paralleled with a cobra (NKJV) or an adder (ESV) in Psalm 91:13. Its plural form is tanninim, which is used with plural verbs, and it is compared to cobras (NKJV) or asps (ESV) in Deuteronomy 32:33. This word describes the great sea creatures God made on Day 5 (Genesis 1:21) and what Pharaoh’s magicians’ rods became when they were thrown down (Exodus 7:12).
  • Tannim – (plural noun used with plural verbs, singular form is tan) This word is frequently used to describe animals that haunt desolate places (Isaiah 34:13), and we are told that they sniff at the wind (Jeremiah 14:6) and howl (Isaiah 13:22). In Isaiah 13:22 it appears in connection with hyenas while many verses place it in the same environment as ostriches (Micah 1:8, Job 30:29).

When laid out like this, do you see how easy it is to spot the distinction between the two terms? A tannin is one serpentine creature on land or in the sea while tannim are multiple land animals that haunt deserted places, can howl, and sniff the wind. Tannin is a singular noun used with singular verbs while tannim is a plural noun used with plural verbs. This point is made clearer by the fact that the masculine plural form of tannin (tanninim) is also used five times in the Bible (Genesis 1:21, Exodus 7:12, Deuteronomy 32:22, Psalm 74:13, and Psalm 148:7). And the feminine plural form of tan (tannot)1 is found in Malachi 1:8. These words clearly refer to different creatures, so they should not be treated as though they are the same. Tannin refers to a serpent or serpent-like creature while tannim are jackals or something similar to a jackal.

Looking for a fun way to learn about the biblical view of dinosaurs and earth’s history? Check out my youth fiction series titled The Truth Chronicles.

It might help if you could see an example in English. Suppose you wrote a book that included brief mentions of cats and a catfish at various points. Of course, people who know the language readily recognize that these are two different words and refer to very different creatures. Similar to tannim being the plural of tan, cats is the plural form of cat. And just as tannin is singular, catfish is also singular. Now imagine that English diminishes to the point where hardly anyone uses it, and over the centuries, some people wrongly translate your work by making cats and catfish the same creature. Then imagine someone trying to translate your work into a different language thousands of years from now. And when it comes to these animals, the primary thing they can base their translation on is how you describe them in the book, and yet those two creatures were not in any way the focus of your book. And they can also look at the wrong translations done over the centuries preceding them. Since the words share the same first three letters and because others have confused these words, that person might assume that they refer to the same thing, but we know they are different. This is similar to what has happened with tannin and tannim.

If someone does not look closely at the Hebrew text, then he or she is left to rely on what others have said about these words. And let’s be honest, most of the time, people will gravitate toward those who say what they want to hear and ignore information that challenges that. But we do not need to do that in this case because the Hebrew text makes it abundantly clear that they are different words that refer to different creatures that generally lived in different environments and often exhibited different behaviors. Thus, while modern translation committees may be influenced by evolutionary thinking, this idea is not reflected in how tannin and tannim have been translated over the past several decades. Those who conflated these terms in older Bibles were mistaken, and biblical creationists need to do a better job of carefully examining the biblical text so that we can avoid making false claims about others and promoting outdated and mistaken ideas about the Bible.

  1. The “o” in tannot should have a solid line over it to indicate a long o sound, but I’m not sure how to make this symbol in WordPress.