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Warning! Allegories Ahead

July 13, 2017

The historical-redemptive hermeneutic believes every passage in the Old Testament finds its ultimate meaning in Jesus. This is not the process of drawing gospel applications from any passage in the Bible. A skillful teacher can swiftly bridge from any point in the Bible to the plan of salvation. The Christological hermeneutic believes Jesus is the correct interpretation of any passage. This method utilizes allegorical interpretation to find Jesus hidden in the Old Testament.

The allegorical method of interpretation looks beyond the literal meaning of the passage to find hidden, spiritual truths. C. I. Scofield employs a Christological and allegorical method when he says of Genesis 1:16, “The greater light is a type of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. Morally the world is now in the state between Genesis 1:3 and 1:16. The sun is not seen, but there is light. Christ is that light, but shineth in darkness comprehended only by faith. Dispensationally the church is in place as the lesser light, the moon, reflecting the light of the unseen sun. The stars are individual believers who are lights.” (Scofield Reference Bible) Allegorical interpretations are not limited to a Christ-centered approach.

Pope Gregory practiced notoriously bad allegoricalism. He said in regard to the book of Job, “Believing hearers have been gathered from various manners of 1ife, a truth which is first declared generally by the mention of (Job’s) daughters, the same is afterwards brought before us in detail by the specification of the animals. For what does he set forth in the seven thousand sheep, but some men’s perfect innocency, which comes from the pastures of the Law to the perfect estate of grace? what again is signified by the three thousand camels, but the crooked defectiveness of the Gentiles coming to the fulness of faith.” Pope Gregory said of Rebekah’s journey to meet Isaac, “The Gentile state is signified by the naming of a camel; and hence Rebecca on going to Isaac is brought on a camel’s back, in that the Church, which hastens from the Gentile state to Christ, is found in the crooked and defective behaviour of the old life; and she, when she saw Isaac, descended, in that when the Gentile world knew the Lord, it abandoned its sins, and descending from the height of self-elation sought the lowly walks of humility; and she too in bashfulness covers herself with a veil, in that she is confounded in His presence for her past life.”

Terrible examples of allegorical interpretation abound. Fully realizing the misuse of anything does not disprove its validity a crucial point can still be made from these examples. The allegorical meaning is determined by the creativity of the interpreters imagination. Job’s three thousand camels could be representative of Gentile believers, the three thousand saved on the day of Pentecost, the Great White Throne of Judgment that is to take place 3,000 years after the Jesus’ resurrection or the depredations of sin upon the heart of man. Allegorical interpretation is unbridled. Because the Bible does not declare that every portion of the Bible is an allegory of Jesus the interpreters conclusion is unbounded and subject to whatever fancy suits him.

For example, and this example was presented by a proponent of the historical-redemptive hermeneutic to illustrate its proper use, Ecclesiastes 9:14-15 says, “There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.” Ralph Erskine, an 18th century Scottish preacher, said the city represents the world and the church of God. The great king is either God, Satan or sin and death. The wise man is Christ who delivered the city by the wise plan of salvation. The preacher is not sure what the rest of the verse means, but he is sure that Jesus is in there.

Instead of concocting an attempt to make every passage of Ecclesiastes about Jesus, why not proclaim what Ecclesiastes is about. Worldly wisdom is empty. Though wisdom is better than the might of armies even a wise man is brought to nothing. Lasting wisdom is the wisdom that fears God. The conclusion of the whole matter is to fear God and keep His commandments. When the text is understood as it is written a bridge to the cross becomes clear. The reader does not need a doctorate in imagination. Any one can follow the text and see the truths it contains. When the emptiness of human wisdom is understood the natural tension that arises will provide ample opportunity to point to the cross. Jesus does not need to be found hiding in a little city to lead people to the gospel. The gospel can be reached from Ecclesiastes but Ecclesiastes is not about Jesus.

Mining the text to discover Jesus overlooks the obvious treasures that are there. Some portions of the mine have richer ore than others. Some jewels are more valuable than others. Do we throw away the ruby because it is not a diamond? Looking deeper for non-existent treasure does not make the text richer. Delight in the treasure that is present.

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