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of the Christian redemption in terms borrowed from the past redemption of Israel out of Egypt.1
Lastly, when Jehovah is described as coming to execute judgment, to deliver the pious, and to destroy his enemies, or in any manner to display his divine power upon earth, the description is embellished from that tremendous scene which was exhibited on Mount Sinai at the delivery of the law. Two sublime examples of this sort, to mention no more, occur in Psal. xviii. 7—15. and Mic. i. 3, 4.3
ON THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE ALLEGORIES.
The Allegory defined. - Different Species of Allegory. - Rules for the Interpretation of Scripture Allegories.
ANOTHER branch of the figurative language of Scripture is the Allegory; which, under the literal sense of the words, conceals a foreign or distant meaning. Of this species of figure Bishop Lowth has three kinds, viz. 1. The Allegorys properly so called, and which he terms a continued metaphor; -2. The Parable, or similitude, which is discussed in the following section; and, 3. The Mystical Allegory, in which a double meaning is couched under the same words, or when the same prediction, according as it is differently interpreted, relates to different events, distant in time, and distinct in their nature.
The Mystical Allegory differs from the two first-mentioned species in the nature of its materials; it being allowable in the former to make use of imagery from different objects, while the mystical allegory is exclusively derived from things sacred. There is likewise this further distinction, that, in those other forms of allegory, the exterior or ostensible imagery is fiction only; the truth lies altogether in the interior or remote sense, which is veiled as it were under this thin and pellucid covering. But, in the mystical allegory, each idea is equally agreeable to truth. The exterior or ostensible image is not a shadowy colouring of the interior sense, but is in itself a reality; and, although it
1 This interesting and important topic is well illustrated in the "Lectures on the Figurative Language of Scripture," Lect. vi. Jones's Works, vol. iii. pp. 92—100.
2 See Exod. xix. 16. 18. Deut. iv. 11, 12.
3 The learned Professor Michaelis, in his additions to Bishop Lowth's ninth lecture, has endeavoured to prove that the sacred writers drew largely from poetic fable, which they derived from the Egyptians, in common with the Greeks and Romans. As it respects the latter, his argument is convincing and satisfactory; but with regard to the Hebrews, as it depends chiefly on his own Latin versions, which (the excellent English translator of the Bishop's lectures remarks) are by no means so faithful to the original as our common version, his point by no means appears to be demonstrated. On this account the present brief notice of Michaelis's hypothesis may be deemed sufficient: it is, however, adopted by Bauer in his Hermeneutica Sacra, pp. 209, 210.
4 Lectures on Hebrew Poetry, vol. i. lect. 10. and 21.
5 Αλληγωρια or Allegory is derived from αλλο αγορείται : i. e. a different thing is said from that which is meant. It differs from a metaphor, in that it is not confined to a word, but extends to a whole thought, or, it may be, to several thoughts. An allegory may be expressed moreover by pictures, by actions, as in Ezek. iii. iv. v. and Luke xxii. 36. —or by any significant thing.
sustains another character, it does not wholly lay aside its own. As,
As every such allegory is a representation of real matters of fact under feigned names and feigned characters, it must be subjected to a two-fold examination. "We must first examine the immediate representation, and then consider what other representation it was intended to excite. Now, in most allegories the immediate representation is made in the form of a narrative; and since it is the object of an allegory to convey a moral, not an historical truth, the narrative itself is commonly fictitious. The immediate representation is of no further value, than as it leads to the ultimate representation. It is the application or moral of the allegory which constitutes its worth." In the investigation, then, of an allegory, the following rules may assist us to determine its ultimate meaning.
I. Allegorical Senses of Scripture are not to be sought for where the literal sense is plain and obvious.
This rule is of the greatest importance; from not attending to it, the antient Jews, as the Therapeutæ, the author of the book of Wisdom, Josephus, and Philo, and, in imitation of them, Origen3 and many of the fathers, (whose example has also been followed by some modern expositors,) have respectively turned even historical passages of Scripture into allegories, together with such other passages as already had a proper and literal sense. Hence many ridiculous interpretations have been imposed on passages of Scripture, the proper moral sense of which has been either greatly enervated, or entirely frittered away, by such misnamed spiritual expositions.
II. The Design of the whole Allegory must be investigated.
The consideration of this rule will embrace a variety of particulars. 1. In investigating the Design of an Allegory, the CONTEXT is first to be examined and considered, by comparing the preceding and subsequent parts of the discourse.
In 2 Tim. ii. 20. we read thus: In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour and some to dishonour. Now, since the apostle did not intend to say what these words literally mean of themselves, it is evident that he employed an allegory, the design of which is to be ascertained by the aid of the context. In the preceding verses, 15. and 16. he had exhorted Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth, and to shun vain and profane babblings. Hence it appears that Saint Paul was speaking of the qualifications of a teacher. The great house then, in which are vessels of several kinds, will signify the Christian church, in which are various teachers, and of different value. In the following verses, 21. and 22. Timothy is exhorted to avoid novel doctrines, to separate himself from false teachers, and to make him
1 See Chapters VI. and VIII. infra, on the Mystical and Typical Interpretations of Scripture; and Chapter VII. Section III. on the Double Sense of Prophecy.
2 Bishop Marsh's Lectures, part iii. p. 80. The seventeenth and eighteenth lec-
3 Dr. A. Clarke (note on Exod. i. 22.) has given a curious specimen of Origen's
self a vessel fitted for the master's use, prepared for every good work. Here, again, the apostle is not speaking literally of household goods, but of teachers. The design of the allegory, therefore, in the passage above cited, is to intimate, that, as in a great house there is a variety of utensils, some of a more precious and others of a coarser material, so in the church of God, which is the house of God, there are teachers of different characters and capacities. Some of them, being faithful, are employed in the honourable work of leading men in the paths of truth and piety; while others, being unfaithful, are permitted to follow the dishonourable occupation of seducing those who love error, that the approved may be made manifest.
2. The OCCASION which gave rise to the Allegory, and which is indirated by the context, is also to be considered.
Thus, in the Gospels, we meet with numerous instances of persons who asked questions of our Saviour, or who entertained erroneous notions: an allegory is delivered, by way of reply, to correct the error, and at the same time to instruct the inquirer. In John vi. 25-65. many things are announced relative to the eating of bread: these are to be understood of spiritual food, the doctrines of Christ, which are to be received for the same purpose as we take food, namely, that we may be nourished and supported. The occasion of this allegorical mode of speaking is related in verse 31. Our fathers, said the Jews, did eat manna in the desert, as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. 1, says Christ, am the living bread, which cometh down from heaven. The meaning of the whole evidently is, that by cating the flesh of Christ we are to understand the same idea as is implied in eating bread, namely, to derive support from it. The argument of our Lord, then, may be thus expressed :- The manna which your fathers did cat in the wilderness, could only preserve a mortal life. That is the true bread of life which qualifies every one who eats it for everlasting happiness. I call myself this bread, not only on account of my doctrine, which purifies the soul, and fits it for a state of happiness, but also because I shall give my own life to procure the life of the world."
3. As the context frequently indicates the meaning of an allegory, so likewise its SCOPE and INTERPRETATION are frequently pointed out by some explanation that is subjoined.
In Luke v. 29. it is related that our Lord sat down to eat with publicans and sinners. When questioned by the Pharisees for this conduct, he replied, They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; and added the following explanation I am not come to call the righteous, those who arrogantly presume themselves to be such, but sinners to repentance. The scope, occasion, and explanation being severally known, the meaning of the allegory becomes evident. Sometimes, however, this explanation of an allegory is conveyed in a single word, as in 1 Thess. v. 8. Here we are commanded to put on a breast-plate and helmet it is added, by way of exposition, the breast-plate of faith and love, and the helmet of hope. The sense of the figure is - Prepare yourself for your spiritual warfare with faith, love, and hope, lest you suffer loss.
4. Sometimes the allegory proposed is explained in its several parts by the person speaking.
Thus, in Eph. vi. 11-19. many things are said of the Christian's armour; and the girdle, breast-plate, greaves, shield, and sword are distinctly specified. That these terms are allegorical is evident. In the tenth verse the exhortation, to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, precedes in the eleventh and following verses the apostle explains what he intended to be understood, in its several parts: thus, the sword is the word of God, the girdle is integrity, the shield is faith, &c. In such passages as this, an explanation is desirable, otherwise the allegory it contains could not be interpreted upon any certain principle.
5. Sometimes also the context incidentally presents some proper word, by which the meaning of the whole allegory may be discerned.
In John xii. 35. our Lord says- Yet a little while is the light with you. A single proper word is almost immediately subjoined-believe in the light. (verse 36.) Hence it appears that by light is meant himself, the divine teacher: it is equally plain that to continue in darkness means to continue in ignorance. Another instance occurs in Matt. v. 14. Ye are the light of the world: a city that is set on an hill cannot be hid, &c. It is afterwards subjoined, that men may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. From this expression, good works, which is the key to the whole passage, we perceive that our Lord's dis
course treats of that example of a holy life and conversation, which it is the duty of Christians to set before others.
III. The proper or literal meaning of the primary word must be ascertained, before we attempt to explain an allegory.
For this purpose, the primary word itself must first be ascertained, and its force expressed, by an appropriate literal word; and to this sense all the other figurative words of the passage should be referred, and explained agreeably to it. The primary word in an allegory is that, which contains the foundation and reason why the passage under consideration is expressed by that particular image and such primary word is to be ascertained both from the scope as well as from the explanation which may be subjoined, and also from the subject or thing itself which is treated of. Thus in 1 Cor. v. 6-8. the apostle speaks of leaven in such a manner, that the whole of that passage contains an earnest exhortation to a holy life; for the context shows that the design of the allegorical admonition was, that the Corinthians should not be tainted with wickedness and depravity of life. The occa sion of the allegory was their admittance of an incestuous person into the church at Corinth. Now, as the apostle says, Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? and accommodates the remaining sentences of the passage to the same image, the consideration of the primary word will readily lead us to this sense one man may be injurious to the whole congregation by his corrupt example. Saint Paul further adds an explanation of his meaning, when he says, Let us keep the feast, not with old learen, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, &c. Here the meaning of copralev (keep the feast) is, not to celebrate the festival of the passover as it literally means, but to serve and worship God in Christ; in other words, to be a sincere Christian, and in such a manner that, being cleansed from all former sins, we should serve and worship God in true holiness. In like manner we are to understand the expression, destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John ii. 19.) The primary word temple must be changed into a proper or literal one, namely, the body of Christ, as the evangelical history suggests; and to this the rest of the passage must be referred.
IV. In the explanation of an allegorical passage, historical circumstances should be consulted.
For it sometimes happens that history alone can throw any light on the passage.
Thus, in John xxi. 18. the evangelist evidently refers us to history for an explanation. Our Lord is there represented as saying to Peter- When thou wast young thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but, when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another skall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This, adds the historian, spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. Now there is nothing related in the New Testament which can afford any clue to this passage: but, if we consult ecclesiastical history, we shall find that Peter suffered a violent death; and thus every sentence becomes clear.
So in Matt. xiii. 31–34. the kingdom of God is likened unto a grain of mustard seed which gradually springs up and becomes a large plant; and also to leaven, which gradually ferments the whole mass, into which it is put. History shows that the church of Christ has arisen from small beginnings, and is spreading itself through the earth.
1 Mr. Gilpin has given the following lucid exposition of this, in some respects, difficult passage: I hear," says the apostle to the Corinthians, "that there hath been practised among you a very enormous kind of wickedness, which is not heard of even among Gentiles that one of you hath had connection with his father's wife; and that others, instead of making it a cause of general mourning, and sepa rating themselves from so vile a person, seem rather to defend him in his wickedness.- Though absent, I take upon me, through the authority of the Holy Ghost, to decide in this matter. I command, therefore, that, on receipt of this epistle, you gather the congregation together, and in the name of Jesus Christ solemnly expel this person from your communion; that he may see the heinousness of his sin, and after a sincere repentance be restored to God's favour. Your defending him in his wickedness is an immediate step towards being corrupted yourselves. You are under a necessity, therefore, on your own account, to remove this pernicious example. Consider your blessed Saviour's death, and preserve yourselves. as free as possible from sin, which was the cause of it." See the New Testament, vol. ii. p. 165.
In Prov. v. 15-18. we have the following beautiful allegory:- Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own woll. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. That this passage is allegorical, is evident from the same figure being continued through several sentences and verses. Its sense is to be investigated both according to the oriental mode of speaking, (for the inhabitants of the East, who draw most of their metaphors from natural objects, are accustomed to compare their wives to a cistern or pool, whence rivers flow,) and also from the proper words subjoined towards the close, rejoice with the wife of thy youth; as likewise from the series of the discourse, since the author of the Book of Proverbs, in the beginning of this chapter, is dissuading from illicit intercourse. From these circumstances collectively considered, the sense of the allegory plainly is, that no man should follow strange women, but live content with the wife whom he hath espoused: lest, influenced by his example, she should deviate from the path of virtue.
V. The nature of the thing spoken of is also to be considered in the exposition of an allegory.
It is necessary that the nature of the thing should be considered, in order that the tendency of every comparison may appear, and also the literal meaning which is concealed under the figurative expressions,
Thus in Matt. v. 13. we read, Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Now, what is the meaning of this admonition? What is the primary word? Salt. But with what proper word can it be interpreted? Here the nature of the thing is to be consulted, which shows that it is the property of salt to render food savoury, as well as to correct the taste: hence it is clear in what sense the disciples are said to be the salt of the earth; for they were teachers by whom some were corrected and made better. The general meaning of the passage is; - Ye, who embrace my religion, like salt shall purify the world; but ye must first be pure yourselves.
In Luke v. 36. the following passage occurs: No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the picce that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. Nothing is adduced by way of explanation: in a preceding verse the Pharisees had asked Christ, why his disciples did not fast, but lived more cheerfully than those of John. Our Saviour replied in the words above cited; nothing, then, can lead us to understand the passage but the nature of the subject. Now in common life we know that no one voluntarily and readily acts indiscreetly, or in an unbecoming manner. There fore, says Christ, since no one in common life acts thus indiscreetly, neither do I require my disciples to do so, since there is no need for them to undergo such austerities. The time will come (verse 35.) when they will fare hardly enough; then they will have sufficient trials. At present neither circumstances, time, nor place require it; things must be accommodated to circumstances. The passage being thus considered, the meaning of the allegory becomes very evident.
VI. Comparison is not to be extended to all the circumstances of the allegory.
"Thus, in the parable of the good Samaritan, the point to be illus trated is, the extent of the duty of beneficence. Most of the circumstances in the parable go to make up merely the verisimilitude of the narration, so that it may give pleasure to him who hears or reads it. But how differently does the whole appear, when it comes to be interpreted by an allegoriser of the mystic schools! The man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho is Adam wandering in the wilderness of this world: The thieves, who robbed and wounded him, are evil spirits; the priest, who passed by without relieving him, is the Levitical Law; the Levite is good works; the good Samaritan is Christ; the oil and wine are grace, &c. What may not a parable be made to mean, if imagination is to supply the place of reason