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. 

About Tim Chaffey

I am the founder of Midwest Apologetics and work as the Content Manager with the Attractions Division of Answers in Genesis. I have written (or co-authored) several books, including In Defense of Easter, God and Cancer, The Sons of God and the Nephilim, and The Truth Chronicles Series (see the publications page for more details). Please note: the opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Answers in Genesis.

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