Inerrancy: Allegory

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Having offered my two cents on a debate going on in the evangelical world at the moment, I am continuing a look at inerrancy and the art of interpretation, otherwise known as hermeneutics. Tonight, I’d like to look at allegory.

Yes. Many of us know about allegory. This is that time when the church fathers looked at the parables of Jesus and saw many many symbols that quite likely, Jesus never intended there to be. We can think of Origen especially. Didn’t this all get out of hand? The text could come to mean pretty much anything?

Certainly there is a great danger with over-allegorizing, but let us not throw out the baby with the bath water. After all, Paul in Galatians 4 draws an allegory out of Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, and Ishmael. If this can be done in inspired Scripture then perhaps we can learn something from it.

In fact, we’ve all done it to an extent. Who has not looked at the story of Abraham offering his son upon the altar and thought that there were images of Christ there? Look at how Isaac laid himself on the altar and how there just happened to be a ram, a male lamb, with its head caught in the thorns!

The great danger with the method of allegory is that one can lose sight of the original text and what it was intended to mean. I certainly think there’s something to the idea of Abraham and Isaac being a foreshadowing of the coming sacrifice of Christ, but let us make sure as we look at the text with our New Testament lenses that we also look at the text with our Old Testament lenses. This story did not have to wait 2,000 years for it to have meaning. It had meaning when it was written and as it was being passed down.

We can see Abraham as faithful to the promise knowing that God had specifically said that through Isaac and not Ishmael or some Isaac-2 in the future that Abraham’s offspring would be reckoned, and so even at this point Abraham had faith in a future resurrection or one that could happen presently. Keep in mind miracles had not been common in those days and there had certainly been no resurrections yet. We can see the willing and sacrificial spirit of Isaac. We can see the faithfulness of God in providing another sacrifice.

Yes. We can look forward and see the coming Christ, and indeed we should, but let us not miss what is right there at the moment.

The same can be said of the parables of Jesus in the New Testament. Sure. The two coins in the parable of the Good Samaritan could be the Old and New Testaments, but it’s not likely that Jesus’s audience would have grasped something like that. Instead, let’s look at the main point and see them as two coins.

Now we can say “We are in no danger here surely! We do not allegorize the parables that way!”

Perhaps we don’t, but do we take the time to see the parables as more than just lessons on how we ought to live? There is great theology going on. Look at the Good Samaritan. The lawyer asking the question to Jesus that sparks the parable skips past loving God. That one seems pretty cut and dry. Who is my neighbor?

Jesus instead gives a parable turning the question not to “Who is my neighbor?” but “Who is a neighbor?” The lawyer was looking at the people he ought to love. He was not looking at how he ought to love people. Jesus takes an incredibly despised person, a Samaritan, and makes him a hero, while making the local heroes, the priests and Levites, villains. Imagine telling a Jew that they ought not be like the priest and/or Levite but instead should be like the Samaritan.

In doing that, he’s not just doing ethics, he’s giving insight into his own self and into God. He is the ultimate Samaritan as he comes to those who are in the worst need and is more concerned with their well-being than ceremonial cleanliness. (Keep in mind Jesus would have been seen as defiling himself for entering Zacchaeus’s household for instance)

If that is the case, Jesus is making quite a statement about God as well in that God loves all people and cares about that far more than ritual cleanliness. The kind of ritual that kept people from loving their neighbor as themselves went against all that YHWH desired for His people.

Yes. A lot of allegorizers made a mistake, but we can make a mistake as well.

Still, allegory should be considered and when we read the Old Testament, we often use it. The main point we should get however is that an allegory can help us see the text in a new light, but let it never go against the way that the text was originally intended for the original audience.

We shall continue next time.

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