Concerning The Allegorical Interpretation Of Scripture -- By: Paul K. Jewett

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 17:1 (Nov 1954)
Article: Concerning The Allegorical Interpretation Of Scripture
Author: Paul K. Jewett


Concerning The Allegorical Interpretation Of Scripture 1

Paul K. Jewett

To the average Protestant student of Scripture, the phrase “allegorical interpretation” conjures up spectres of fanciful exposition, from which, happily, the church has been delivered by the sobriety of the grammatico-historical method. This negative attitude is not without its reasons. The Protestant Reformers not only returned to the Scripture as the seat of religious authority, but more especially to the Scripture as interpreted according to its plain intent. Only then was it possible to make the issue clear, for so long as the current allegorical interpretation of the Bible was unchallenged, there was no conflict between the teaching of the Church and that of Scripture. Luther, as might be expected under the circumstances, was almost as unkind in his remarks about allegorizing as he was when speaking of the pope. “Allegories are empty speculations and as it were the scum of Holy Scripture.” “Origen’s allegories are not worth so much dirt.” “Allegory is a sort of beautiful harlot, who proves herself specially seductive to idle men.” “To allegorise is to juggle with Scripture.” “Allegorising may degenerate into a mere monkey-game (Affenspiel).” “Allegories are awkward, absurd, invented, obsolete, loose rags.”2 Yet Luther himself discovered meanings in the text which displayed an allegorizing ingenuity little short of caprice. He saw, for example, both the divinity of Messiah and the communicatio idiomatum in the particle אָת in Genesis 5:22.3

We, as conservatives today, have hardly progressed beyond this ambiguity in Luther. We rather uniformly employ the

term “allegorical method” as something evil, but our actual use of Scripture belies our theory. For example, we generally interpret the Song of Solomon as applying to Christ and the Church, in much the same manner as did Bernard of Clairvaux in the Middle Ages. We may not aspire to surpass his record of 86 sermons on this one book, but when we do have anything to say, it has a fairly genuine medieval ring. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.”4 There are, on no less authority than that of Charles Spurgeon, the kiss of reconciliation, the kiss of acceptance, the kiss of daily communion, the kiss of reception which removes the soul from earth, and the kiss of consummation which fills it with the joy of ...

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