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What is wrong with allegorical reading?

6a00e55043abd08834011570c12ed1970c-800wiI just had a fascinating interaction online in the context of discussing the relation of the Old Testament to the New. The conversation went something like this.

Blogger: ‘There is no difference between the OT and the NT. There is nothing in the NT which is not in the OT.’

Me: ‘What about Jesus?’

Blogger: ‘He is all over the Old Testament. You just have to look.’

Me: ‘Really? Where for example?’

He then offered me the following allegorical reading of the Joshua 2 based on the fact that Joshua in Hebrew is the same name as Jesus in Greek (the Hebrew meaning of course ‘God saves’, Matt 1.21):

The conquest of the land is not a prediction of Jesus.  It is a prediction of reclaiming Adam’s or man’s rightful place in the Garden of Eden.  As you know, the Bible starts with Adam or man losing his place in the garden.  The Bible then ends with man reclaiming his rightful and original place in the new earth in the book of Revelation.

Joshua is a type of Christ in the OT.  He leads the Israelites to the promised land just as Jesus leads us to salvation.  Joshua destroys the city of Jericho not by force, but with the representation of the Word of God based on the Law of God through the blowing of the trumpets while walking in front of the Ark.  The family of Rahab is saved by two Israelites who represent the two witnesses or the two books of the Bible.  Rahab makes a covenant with them just as Jesus makes a covenant with us through His Word.  Ultimately, Rahab is saved by a scarlet cord that is draped out of her window.  Obviously the scarlet represents the blood of Christ.

When I responded that I was not persuaded that this was in fact the ‘meaning’ of the text, I was offered further ‘insight’:

The whole story of the gospel is in the story of Joshua and Rahab. In addition to the tidbits I gave you before, I will give you some more spiritual insight on this story. You will notice that throughout the Bible, the church is represented by a woman. I submit to you that Rahab represents the church in this story. Just like God’s true church on earth, Rahab is the only one in the city of Jericho to make a covenant with the two Israelites. In fact, she is told to bring all her family into her household if they want to be saved. Is this not the gospel? Are we as the church, not suppose to bring in every lost soul to be saved? Are we not supposed to spread the gospel? Notice in the story that only those that were with Rahab in her household was saved by hanging the scarlet thread. Now Ian, you should at least agree that the color scarlet is no coincidence here when it represents salvation. It is very obvious that it represents the blood of Christ.

I had not come across this reading before (do I need to get out more?) but I have to say I found it fascinating, and can readily see its appeal. In some ways it appears to come close to Paul’s own reading of the OT (‘the rock was Christ’ 1 Cor 10.4, ‘Hagar stands for Mt Sinai’ Gal 4.25) and in fact Paul uses the word allegoreo in introducing this idea. Perhaps the best known allegorical reading is of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Origen read it allegorically thus:

The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord’s body, the [inn], which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. … The manager of the [inn] is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming. (Homily 34.3)

This reading was virtually universal throughout early Christianity, being advocated by Irenaeus, Clement as well as Origen, and in the fourth and fifth centuries by Chrysostom in Constantinople, Ambrose in Milan, and Augustine—whose version is perhaps best known:

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; Adam himself is meant; Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace, from whose blessedness Adam fell; Jericho means the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, an dies. Thieves are the devil and his angels. Who stripped him, namely; of his immortality; and beat him, by persuading him to sin; and left him half-dead, because in so far as man can understand and know God, he lives, but in so far as he is wasted and oppressed by sin, he is dead; he is therefore called half-dead. The priest and the Levite who saw him and passed by, signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament which could profit nothing for salvation. Samaritan means Guardian, and therefore the Lord Himself is signified by this name. The binding of the wounds is the restraint of sin. Oil is the comfort of good hope; wine the exhortation to work with fervent spirit. The beast is the flesh in which He deigned to come to us. The being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the Church, where travelers returning to their heavenly country are refreshed after pilgrimage. The morrow is after the resurrection of the Lord. The two pence are either the two precepts of love, or the promise of this life and of that which is to come.

What is wrong with these readings? After all (as another blogger comments) does this not ‘cohere with and flow from the Church’s proclamation of the Cross and Resurrection’? The Reformers had no time for such readings, and Calvin gives this short shrift:

The allegory which is here contrived by the advocates of free will is too absurd to deserve refutation… I acknowledge that I have no liking for any of these interpretations; but we ought to have a deeper reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning. And, indeed, any one may see that the curiosity of certain men has led them to contrive these speculations, contrary to the intention of Christ. (Commentary on Matthew, Mark and Luke volume 3)

Of course, the great paradox here is that I suspect the person who offered me the allegory of Joshua comes from a Reformed church that esteems Calvin.

So what is wrong with this kind of reading?

Aime-Morot-Le-bon-SamaritainFirstly it functions by pulling the text into the world of the reader, instead of taking the reader into the world of the text. In doing this, as Calvin states, it ‘disguises its natural meaning’, or as I would express it, this approach actually silences the text. We are left not with the text but with the allegory. The main point of Jesus’ parable is a call to ethical action: ‘Go thou and do likewise.’ The main point about the Joshua narrative is that God’s mercy extends to unexpected people (I would argue). Both of these are lost in the allegory.

Secondly and perhaps more surprising, the allegory actually silences itself. It offers such a systematised way of reading that it precludes any interaction or reflection. Moving over the small point that in one part of the allegory Joshua is Jesus but in another part the scarlet cord is, I wonder what the implications might be of seeing the people of God not just as a woman, but as a racially outcast prostitute? Or that Jesus’ death was like a cord that had been skilfully woven by the hands of such a woman? I think you could defend this notion by looking at the central role of (marginalised) women in the gospels, bearers (literally) of God’s good news at the start of Jesus’ life, the only ones who remained by his cross in his death, and the first witnesses of his resurrection. But I really doubt that this was in the mind of my discussion partner!

Thirdly it eliminates problems and challenges in the text. The Book of Joshua is a prime example of the difficulty of reading about divinely sanctioned violence and even genocide. I consider this problem in another post—but of course the moment you read allegorically, the problem disappears. It is worth noting that the NT never reads Joshua allegorically.

Fourthly this approach ignores a basic feature of the text—its genre. It presents itself as nothing other than a (theologically shaped) historical account of things that happened. If we can read this allegorically or figuratively, then why not do the same to the stories about Jesus? The resurrection was not something that happened, but a way of describing the apostles’ feeling that somehow Jesus had a new significance beyond death.

Fifthly it turns the commentator into a priest—someone who stands between me and the text and mediates the meaning to me. I had not worked out that the thread was the blood of Jesus—how could I? When I was slow to go with the allegory of Joshua, I was enjoined:

The OT is full of stories like this where the gospel and the salvation of Jesus is represented. You just have to open your heart and look through your “spiritual glasses”! Praise God for the wonderful true stories!! I beg of you to pray and ask God to open your heart and mind. The OT is not just a historical record. Every story has deep inspirational and spiritual meaning for us.

Of course, what he really meant was not that the OT is more than a historical record—it is hardly historical at all. And it is not that I have to look through my ‘spiritual glasses’ but that I had to look through his glasses!

In the end, the allegorical approach de-historicizes the text and undermines the idea that texts are bearers of meaning. Instead, they become a sort of code that needs unlocking with a secret key which only belongs to the initiated—which is gnostic rather than rational. Note that this is a very different exercise from reading a text metaphorically, or finding application by seeing parallels in the text with later texts or our own situation.

So generally speaking if you are finding a biblical passage strange, baffling and difficult to understand, this is a good thing. On the other hand, if you read and think it all makes sense, fits perfectly with your theology and there is no challenge here—that’s the time to start worrying!

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32 Responses to What is wrong with allegorical reading?

  1. Bob MacDonald September 20, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    Why not say what is right with this kind of reading? It is true that one can make anything out of anything (John Mason Neale in his big commentary on the psalms) and it is true that explanation can keep the text in a convenient box, nevertheless, there is allegory. In particular I would refer you to Gillingham’s Psalms through the centuries. Besides allegorical, analogical, typological,and a half-dozen others, you will find Origen’s prosopological approach as it appears in the singular / plural axis of the speaker in the text. The ‘I’ of the psalms is often an individual identifying with the human situation. So it could be “the human Christ identifying with humanity as well as the divine Christ vindicating his church” (p,29)

    Such identification might encourage us to identify also and to obey the heavenly vision, not taking refuge in our own might but in the hidden God.

  2. Ian Paul September 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Bob thanks very much for posting your comment. Why not say what I think is right with this approach? The honest answer is: I don’t think there is anything right with this approach.

    I agree with you about the importance of our reading of the scriptures leading us to greater understanding and obedience. But I think that allegorical reading inhibits rather than helps this. In the two examples I have given, it does not bring out more meaning but replaces and obscures what the scriptures are actually saying—I absolutely agree with Calvin’s comment in this regard.

    It was not without reason that the Reformers objected to allegorical, analogical, typological and all the other ogicals. They serve to collapse Scripture into our pre-understanding rather than allowing Scripture to remain truly Other to us.

  3. Phil Harrold September 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    In the Facebook thread generated by Ian’s post, I noted how helpful I have found the canonical reading approach of Brevard Childs, Chris Seitz, et al. They offer some very important insights on allegorical reading that have shifted my thinking to a more positive, albeit cautious, stance. Now, repeating a point I made in FB, re. Augustine, Aquinas, and in a very qualified sense, Calvin: what Childs et al. find there is allegorization ‘normed’ by the literal sense… and the literal sense, itself, is a “critical theological norm”. My colleague at Trinity, Don Collett, has recommended Childs’ piece, “The Sensus Literalis of Scripture: An Ancient and Modern Problem” (sorry, the complete reference is not handy). Childs explains it far better than I ever could.

  4. Ian Paul September 20, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    Thanks Phil. Following up your reference, I found this interesting comment:

    For Childs, using an allegorical method in biblical hermeneutics is incorrect because of its historical, hermeneutical, and theological insufficiency. The allegorical method is unacceptable historically, because “it changes the voice of the original witness.” It is not acceptable hermeneutically, because allegorical interpretation assumes that “every time-conditional feature of the NT can be used as a warrant for its continued use without properly understanding the theological relation of its authority to its function as kerygmatic witness.” And it is unacceptable theologically, because the allegorical method “confuses a biblical word “promise” with that of Tulfillment’ by identifying the OT with the NT.” By adopting this attitude Childs’s is warning modem critical scholarship against falling into speculative historical interpretations when seeking the “original” meaning of the text. This would be a mistake analogical to that Found in the mediaeval allegorical interpretation. (Theological Exegesis in the Canonical Context: Brevard Springs Childs’ Methodology of Biblical Theology, Chen Xun, 2010).

  5. Ian Paul September 20, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    It seems to me that the significance of a text being in the canon is NOT that it changes its meaning in terms of its semantic content, but that it has been judged to be of significance because of what it is concerns. This highlights Childs’ concern about the relation between the historical meaning (sensus historic us) and its literal meaning. It has a new significance because it has been judged not just to be a record of specific historic events, but that in understanding these historic events we come to understand something of God’s dealings with his people.

    This reminds me of one of the very helpful categories in John Goldingay’s Models for Scripture—authoritative testimony. As JEG says, testimony has a facticity about it (so if it claims to be of historical acts, we need to take that history seriously). But these historical acts, within the testimony, are given a significance they would not otherwise have, and come to use as *interpreted* facts.

  6. Ian Paul September 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    But I do like Childs’ objection to allegory that “it changes the voice of the original witness.” This seems very close to Calvin’s ‘disguising the meaning’ or my more serious evaluation that it ‘silences the original text.’

  7. Barney September 20, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    I don’t think any of today’s proponents of the allegorical method see it as replacing the literal sense in any way. They tend to draw on the medieval systematisation of the more intuitive forays of the Fathers, known as the Quadriga. See Leithart’s article here.

    It seems that most of your objections to the allegorical method are based on this assumption of replacement: that in using it one excludes or sidelines the importance of understanding the literal sense. Would you still have methodological objections to it if it was not seen that way? (Of course, it’s a different question whether you would see the usefulness of allegory, but that question depends on your answer to this one).

  8. Ian Paul September 20, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    Barney that is a great link and a really interesting article—thanks. A couple of observations:

    1. Yes, I do think that in fact the allegorical sense is (in my two examples) replacing the literal sense. My objection to the first is that it really silences some important issues in the literal sense of Joshua 2, one of which is actually picked up (implicitly) in Matthew’s genealogy. Calvin’s complaint about allegorising the Good Samaritan is very similar. In the part I omitted he says:

    According to them, under the figure of a wounded man is described the condition of Adam after the fall; from which they infer that the power of acting well was not wholly extinguished in him; because he is said to be only half-dead.

    and

    They have contrived a third subtlety, that Christ does not immediately restore health, but sends us to the Church, as an innkeeper, to be gradually cured.

    So theology is being shaped erroneously; the literal meaning of the parable has been displaced.

  9. Ian Paul September 20, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    2. I think the article on the Quadriga raises an interesting point: do we simply stop at the point of finding the historical meaning of the text? surely we need to go further, beyond what the text *means* and explore what it means *for us*?

    I think that is true, but this is an exercise in moving from the meaning of a text to its significance (assuming we for the moment restrict the meaning of the word ‘meaning’ to be the semantic content of the text in question). Now, it might be because I have moved mostly in evangelical *charismatic* circles, but I haven’t ever felt that lack of this has been a problem in most reading I have witnessed. If anything, people move too quickly onto the significance for us. (I know this is less the case if you move in Reformed circles.)

    But teasing out the significance for us is something *subsequent* to and separate from understanding what the text means, or rather meant. For me, the problems arise when you press that signifance back into the text itself—even so far as pushing a later, Christological/canonical meaning into OT texts. Joshua must first mean what it meant when first written, heard and incorporate into the canon of the Hebrew Bible *before* we then lend it Christological significance.

  10. Ian Paul September 20, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    I should also add that I include the other elements in the Quadriga different parts of a Trinitarian model for interpretation that I teach and which I hope to blog about soon.

  11. Brian Small September 21, 2013 at 1:29 am #

    The scarlet cord representing the blood of Christ is in fact a very ancient intepretation, dating back to the first century with the letter of 1 Clement.

  12. Ian Paul September 21, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Thanks Brian—I was aware of this tradition and in the article mention Irenaeus, Clement, Origen, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Augustine. But I hadn’t come across this particular allegorisation before.

    What I find really curious is that evangelicals are supposed to believe that Scripture constantly reforms the traditions of the church—and yet so many choose the tradition over the text in this approach. I don’t suppose they do the same when it comes to the ancient tradition of a sacerdotal priesthood!

  13. Ian Paul September 21, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Gill Kimber commented on FB: I suspect the main thing in literature is that allegory is produced by writers who have a deliberate intention of conveying more universal truth through the allegory – eg Pilgrim’s Progress. So the allegory is intentional. Treating a text as allegorical when it was not intended to be so, is very post-modern and deconstructional – the text means whatever you want it to mean. Many people don’t – and don’t want to – accept that biblical truth is objective, not subjective … there is no objective truth, there is only ‘my’ truth.

  14. Ian Paul September 21, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Jonathan Parker commented on FB: Thanks for highlighting this dynamic, Ian. I have come across this “Joshua/Jesus” interpretation before at Westminster Theological Centre, WTC. The problem I had with it (in the form I heard it) was not that it was allegorical but that it *replaced* the literal reading. So, to be more detailed about Phil Harrold’s appeal for both/and, I think the question is the way the OT functions as Christian Scripture. How does it speak to the church today?

    (1) I would say that in favor of (good) allegorical readings (i.e. ones which find appropriate referents, given the arc of the Bible as “one Scripture”; i.e. I can’t just replace any old bits of the OT with any other bits from the NT and theology to suit my fancy) the OT can function apart from its original intention because it *is* Scripture (cf. Childs); it can speak of Christ typologically even when it didn’t *mean* to. The question is when has God given us such a typological frame and where has he not (a decision about readings which Erasmus helpfully discusses in his commentaries on the Psalms, h/t Richard Briggs).

    (2) In favor of literal readings, the OT in Christian Scripture retains its own voice and speaks to Christ because Christ is the culmination of Israel’s purposes in the world (i.e. perhaps if Joshua doesn’t enter the land, Jesus doesn’t come to bodily form, and the *way* Joshua enters speaks into the way Jesus becomes a Jewish human). Finally, I don’t have a problem with “interpreters becoming priests”. Priests have always been interpreters of the the text. In fact, I think that’s their main job. The Reformation objected to priests standing in the way of the perspicuity of Scripture *for salvation*, they never meant that *all* Scripture is perspicuous, or else we’d never need Bible teachers to begin with. I think teaching students to wisely use allegory may be just as important a lesson in the art of interpretation as teaching them to read Hebrew. Their both instruction in “seeing” the biblical text for what it is: God’s word (the God of OT and NT). Thanks for the prompt to discuss!!

  15. Ian Paul September 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    Thanks Jonathan. On your last point I want to take rather seriously Paul’s understanding of community as per Robert Banks which means priests as a distinct class are abolished by the eschatological gift of the Spirit empowering all. So for me the teaching ministry means not standing between the text and the reader but providing the resources and information to facilitate a critical informed engagement of the reader with the text.

  16. Ian Paul September 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    Marcus Throup commented on FB: C. H. Spurgeon provides us with some fascinating parallels to this kind of thing. His sermon on Judah as a “type” of Christ insofar as he is the advocate who puts himself forward in the place of another (Benjamin) makes fantastic reading etc. but is methodologically questionable since the NT itself appears not to make this connection.

  17. Ian Paul September 21, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Mike Higton commented on FB: Augustine reads the parable several times. He reads it as providing a lesson about the nature of neighbourly love; he reads it as describing the love shown to us by Christ (i.e., something like a figural reading in which he takes Christ to be the good Samaritan), and he reads it in this full-blown detailed allegorical way. I think the second of these is not just justifiable, but to some extent necessary – not because Jesus was secretly referring to himself when he told the parable, but because Jesus *was* speaking about gracious neighbourly love that mirrors the gracious love of God – and we know him to be the decisive embodiment of that love. I think it is entirely proper for the reader to make that connection, and see where it takes him/her, asking what light the parable throws on our understanding of Jesus as the enacted love of God, and what light our understanding of Jesus throws on the love displayed in the parable.

    Augustine’s full-blown allegorical reading takes that basic connection, however, and then plays with it – and I think he’s quite consciously having a laugh as he does so. Look, he’s saying, the whole Gospel is here! He is, I think, right about the central point, even if the means he uses to make it are very silly – and not just silly but dangerous to the extent that (if they become a settled way of reading the parable) they risk obscuring or dissolving it incompletely. But I think we are called to explore the tension between boldly reading the parable in the context of the whole Gospel, asking what it says about God’s love in Christ, and the reserve that recognises that such oddness goes beyond the plain sense of the text, and needs constantly to be interrupted and tested by that plain sense.

  18. Ian Paul October 16, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    Thanks. Really interesting. But I don’t think I am clear on your comment ‘I think the second of these is not just justifiable, but to some extent necessary’. In one of my responses on the blog, i comment on the need to distinguish between what the text means, and the implications of it or application for us. If the love enacted by the Samaritan parallels the love shown by Jesus, why can we not just say so? Why do we need to press that back into the ‘meaning’ of the text?

  19. Ian Paul October 16, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    Mike Higton wrote on FB: Ah, but it’s a lot less clear to me than it is to you what ‘meaning’ means – or, rather, it’s a lot less clear quite where the dividing line between meaning and implications/application falls. The parable of the Good Samaritan picks up new resonances when it is read in the context of the Bible as a whole. Those resonances are part of what serious reading uncovers – and, if we’re going to ask the metaphorical question of whether they are ‘in’ the text, I’d want to say that, yes, they’re part of what is ‘in’ the treasure house of the text. Of course, there is certainly something secondary about them – and just about every mainstream account of the allegorical or figural reading says such reading should be secondary to literal reading, and be controlled by it – but I do believe that it is a proper goal of Christian reading to look for and to explore such possibilities.

  20. Ian Paul October 16, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    Sure—but I think I would venture to suggest that, if we are to be *responsible* readers, we need to distinguish between (semantic) meaning and implications. Unless there is something immutable in a text (the historically and contextually informed literal meaning), then the implications are infinitely mutable, in which case texts don’t really ‘mean’ anything. What the text means to me must always have a relationship to what the text meant.

  21. Ian Paul October 16, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    Mike Higton wrote on FB: Well, you wouldn’t necessarily disagree with a medieval commentator like Aquinas, then: the literal and spiritual senses should be clearly distinguished; the literal sense is the only one that can ‘prove’ doctrine, and the spiritual senses should be grounded in the literal sense. But on the question of ‘what the text meant’, I’d argue that, for at least some texts, that question might be answered differently depending on whether we’re talking about the context in which it was first written/read, the context in which it became part of a longer book, and the context in which it became part of a canon. To someone who objects, say, to allegorical readings of the Song of Songs, and says it is simply a love poem, I’d say that that is probably not the whole story, even if we’re only asking about what this text meant, and putting to one side further implications we might happen to draw.

  22. Ian Paul October 16, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    Yes, I would absolutely go with the ‘what the text meant’ as having those dimensions, though I think the first two (what it meant when first written and what it meant when it became part of a longer work) quite hard to distinguish because this would rely on reconstructing the process of composition, which by and large I don’t think we can do. But we can quite clearly ask, for example, what does this Psalm appear to mean, and what does it mean now it has these other psalms on either side of it. (In fact, I tend to label this as canonical meaning, since the formation of smaller texts into books could be seen as the first stage of the formation of the canon.)

    I would also agree with Aquinas in differentiating the status of the literal and spiritual sense in the way you outline. However, I think Aquinas is wrong to say that the spiritual sense ‘belongs’ to the text; As Richard Bauckham expresses it, meaning is formed neither in texts alone nor in readers alone but in the interaction between readers and texts. I think it is possible to say that the literal sense belongs to the text, but the other senses are what readers then do with the text and so do not belong to the text in the same way. Hence I have a problem with describing these other layers of meaning as ‘senses of the text’ at all.

  23. Ian Paul October 16, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    The problem is demonstrated in passages like this: “Another error was that of Theodore [of Mopsuestia] who said that nothing in the Old Testament is said literally of Christ, but is adapted….Against this is the final chapter of Luke: ‘It is necessary that all that was written about me in the law of Moses, in the prophets, and in the psalms be fulfilled.’ It is to be known that in the Old Testament some passages refer to Christ and are said of him alone, as ‘Behold a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son’ (Is 7:14), and the psalm, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (21.10). If someone should posit some other literal sense, he would be a heretic, for that heresy has been condemned. But because not only the words of the Old Testament, but also the events signify Christ, sometimes some things are said literally of others but are referred to Christ in so far as they bear some figure of Christ, as is said of Solomon, ‘And he shall rule from sea to sea’ (Ps 71:8), for this was not fulfilled in Solomon.”

    Interestingly this is where my conversation on the blog started: the other person was saying that the OT does literally speak of Christ. Scholarship would now universally say that the literal sense of Is 7 and Ps 22 were something else.

  24. Morgan Guyton October 23, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    I would say you start with proper exegesis in which you confront and wrestle with the text as it presents itself, like you said. But I don’t think it’s wrong to move on to application. As Christians, we should read all scripture with a Christological lens in terms of its application. Joshua doesn’t get equal standing to tell me how to treat my neighbors of other cultures and religions (slaughter them) as what Jesus says (love your neighbor). I don’t have a problem with a creative reading like seeing Joshua and Rahab as Christ and the church, but I do think you need to understand that it’s derivative and not the core exegesis. And for what it’s worth, the reformers aren’t really authorities for me that I’m going to fall in line with. They exhibit the modernist approach to truth that ultimately created secularism.

  25. Ian Paul October 24, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Thanks Morgan. As I tease out in the exchange with Mike Higton above, I think there is a big difference between seeing an application of the text and seeing something as part of the text—and it is clear that the example I cite in the post is definitely the latter, and not the former.

    Even still, I find it hard to see how understanding the red cord as Jesus’ atoning blood could count as an ‘application’ if you have done your exegesis properly. What I *could* go with, though, would be an argument along the lines of ‘The red cord sums up God’s gracious and grace-filled dealings with Rahab, and we find this grace-filled love expressed most clearly in Jesus’.

    I still think this is a long, long way from the kind of allegorical reading that is around.

  26. Clint Phillips November 5, 2013 at 5:34 am #

    Ian, this is a fascinating conversation for me. I have only read what’s here and not gone to any of the external links, so what I’m about to say may have already been discussed, so I apologize if I’ve missed it. But here it goes:

    My reading of the text (any text) starts with the broad perspective (biblical theology) and works down to the specific text itself. I believe all of scripture is written by God at the hand of men to tell a story that glorifies Himself as the author of that story (primarily by displaying an aspect of His character not otherwise possible without the story – specifically His Mercy; Romans 9:22-23)

    Therefore, Joshua can be understood as a chapter historically preceding the later chapters of the NT/Gospels, etc. But God has an advantage over human authors. The story He is writing is not fiction. Therefore, narratives that happen earlier than others can be (and we should expect them to be) both factual, historical events and yet still have themes, parallels and allegory actually intended by the author which, in the light of His continuing story, unveil a deeper understanding of what God has done and is doing in Christ.

    Choosing one reading over the other seems arbitrary in either sense when you affirm God as the author of His story which is not fictional. It is historically factual with a specific meaning and intent to its human author and audience, while simultaneously carrying a deeper, richer meaning for those of us blessed with a closed canon which shouldn’t exclude allegorical, thematic, typological, parallelism actually intended by the author for His readers regardless of their temporal placement in history.

  27. Clint Phillips November 5, 2013 at 5:36 am #

    I should have closed with:

    “…all to magnify His glory to all people at in all times.”

  28. Clint Phillips November 5, 2013 at 5:39 am #

    I might also add, that this was a wonderfully grace filled conversation that was a blessing to read which I hope I’ve maintained. All my comments are working theories, humbly submitted for uplifting critique.

  29. Ian Paul November 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    Thanks for the comments, Clint, and glad you have enjoyed the discussion. But I don’t think that we can call God ‘the author’ in the same way as humans are ‘the author’; this can only be an analogical understanding. God is not constrained in the way that human authors are, and I don’t think you can talk of ‘authorial intention’ in relation to an omniscient being, because that suggests that writing does not have the human limitations that are in fact evident in Scripture.

    I would go along with the idea of ‘theological interpretation’ though, and I think this can ‘deliver’ some of the concerns that you raise. But we need to take the text seriously as historically situated *before* we then read it canonically and theologically.

  30. Angela July 9, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    This might sound like a daft question but where does the Psalms and Song of Solomon fit in with this . The bible is full of allegories, and examples etc Is it possible that for some that allegory is the method of revelation. There is a point revelation is full of allegories. I do however acknowledge that if it is not true revelation then it could be dangerous even. It sort of leads us to the false prophet /or misguided preacher

  31. Ian Paul July 9, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    I think there is a difference between allegorical reading and symbolic, poetical or theological reading. I am not sure anyone would argue that Song of Songs is an allegory, even if it is symbolic of something other than sexual love (and I am not sure it is!).

    The issue is about whether we follow the nature of the text itself in our interpretation. I have a problem with reading allegorically a text which has no signs of wanting to be read in this way.

  32. angela July 9, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    Thanks for that Ian , I am just re-reading John Hargreaves The psalms I am enjoying reading it some 15 years since I last read it. After i had written the question There was one answer in John Hargreaves study book. Things are so different now I was looking at the songs 2 thirds through the book and there was the Tamils song and the hindi song and the others .But also it is a timeless piece of literature look at the chapter on the crown .

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