Comments: Allegorical and Literal

"it is no more possible for Anglicans to go back to the medieval position than it would be for scientists today to write papers on the unicorn or the gryphon."?
And yet I find myself increasaingly taking passages *and* related ideas metaphorically. When presented with a bone whose carbon-dating shows it to be 10k yrs old with a given error-threshhold, and someone telling me the universe is only 6k yr old, the bone (or rather, person holding it) wins, hands down.
Hence I've come to the conclusion that the *best* you can do with Creation is to treat it metaphorically - deduce that "God is involved with the process of creation" and that's about it. It does, however, make it interesting where to stop, if anywhere: does Adam need to have been a real live human ("literalist" camp) in order for Romans ("for as in Adam, all die") to make sense?
I figure, one can seek to read things literally wherever *intended* (I seriously hope Song of Solomon is not included there, nor the Psalms, because we'd be in for serious problems if the Shuttle ran up against Ps 19:4), but otherwise, look for something metaphorical, because otherwise the only sane option is to reject the text, which should only be a last resort, if at all.
But beware of using one's abstractions to derive dogma. To use Feynman's example, it's true that, while the rules of chess never state as much, in general terms, pieces are stronger nearer the centre of the board. However, you wouldn't make that your sole strategy in trying to play in future! By the same token, you can play around with abstractions such as the number of times Jesus spoke about heaven or hell in a given Gospel, but you *shouldn't make anything of it* either. That's where a lot of people go wrong.

Posted by Tim at Friday, 27 May 2005 at 10:28am BST

If I can just take a moment to ride my hobby-horse... My speciality is the history of Christian scriptural exegesis, and so I've spent a lot of time think about, and studying pre-reformation texts about, the meaning of Scripture (whether literal or metaphorical) and the techniques used to draw out the meaning (like allegory and typology).

I think that typology is a tool that can still have value, precisely because of its strong ties to the 'literal sense'. Many pre-modern exegetes had a sophisitcated awareness of the text and were sensitive to its metaphors and figures of speech and its use of parables, to name but a few. And some among them were strict in separating typology, which respects the literal meaning of the text and connections intended by the human author (such as Paul or the author of the letter to the Hebrews), from allegory, a technique that began in pagan lit crit and is far less "controlled" by the text being interpreted.

So while I agree that allegorical interpretation of the kind so beloved by Ambrose and Augustine is not something we need or want to return to, I'd like to separate typology from it and support its nuanced approach to levels of meaning in the text of the Bible. Because I think that some pre-Reformation exegesis, especially that that's concerned with the literal sense, has insights of value to offer, I've written more about this in my extended essay on Rupert of Deutz' commentary on the Fourth Gospel, which is available on the web.

Exiting the hobby-horse now,
Abigail

Posted by Dr Abigail Ann Young at Friday, 27 May 2005 at 1:18pm BST

Yeah, I can cope with retaining typology - personally I suspect the answer to my question `can you retain Romans with a metaphorical understanding of Gen.1-3:?' is `yes', for example. Certainly reading "(some old event) is a type fulfilled in the NT / in Christ" doesn't *require* absolute historical truth in interpretation.

Posted by Tim at Friday, 27 May 2005 at 5:52pm BST

All men (and women) will interpret scripture and be "wrong" Only God is right. The problem with articles like this is that they convey a fundamental message that God's word is complicated and difficult to understand, making emphasis on need to strive for some special understanding! In truth God's message is REALLY SIMPLE. It is the ability to live by God's example in Jesus Christ that is hard. For this reason He sent us first His only Son, then the Holy Spirit. Scripture must be embraced with a Christocentric hermeneutic based on primary sound exegesis BUT I would rather get this wrong in favour of aquiring some fundamental grasp of what God wants me to do in my life! So I embrace all theological disciplines, without predjudice, BUT only in the context of God's purposes and plan for humanity in general and me in particular. First and foremost I need forgiveness, anointing and commission for my life. I am still struggling with a large log in my own eye!

Posted by Dr Mark Dearden at Sunday, 15 April 2007 at 9:16am BST
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