2.23.2006

Fast and Loose?


I'm trying to jump start a comment thread started over at The Vossed World.

Chad Bresson (aka, Breuss Wane - I still don't understand the strange spelling...)
posted part one of an article by Graeme Goldsworthy called "Is The Old Testament for Christians". It generated a short comment thread about interpretation between the OT & NT.


In the article, Goldsworthy said: "The allegorical method became far less popular, because the historical meaning of the Old Testament was found to be significant on its own, within the unity of the Bible."

So I asked:

When/where then is it appropriate to be allegorical with OT images & symbols & such? I've read some of the history of allegoricalism in Bernard Ramm's "Protestant Biblical Interpreation". Seems you see a lot of it in Jim Elliot's journals. I clearly see the dangers of allegorism, but sometimes the allegory seems so obvious, that it's difficult to deny.Any help on this? (Like I really need something else to try to figure out!)

A few months ago I had done a quick study of allegorism (and I mean quick! an hour or so...) when preparing for a presentation on the life Jim Elliot. Here's several bulleted facts I discovered about allegorism (some of these are claims by allegorists themselves, and not necessarily the view held by iamchief):


  • Allegorism basically says that beneath the literal meaning of Scripture was the true meaning.
  • If the literal sense (of the Text) was body of Scripture, then the allegorical sense was it’s soul.
  • Literal meaning wasn’t useless, but was for the immature.
  • The Christian church up to the Reformation, had pure motives for allegorizing – the OT was a Christian document…(OT conceals what NT reveals), but they used it to excess.
  • Allegorists did, however, retain the true Gospel & kept in central (as did Jim Elliot)

Some of the Dangers of Allegorism:

  • Historical sense was usually ignored
  • Unfamiliarity with progressive revelation
  • Considered OT & NT filled with parables, enigmas & riddles
  • Blurred allegorical with typical

Some quotes from Bernard Ramm's "Protestant Biblical Interpretation"(btw, I've been cautioned by at least two people to be careful with Ramm...but on this topic he seems to be helpful)

  • When the historical sense of a passage is once abandoned there is wanting any sound regulative principle to govern exegesis…The mystical [allegorical] method of exegesis, is an unscientific and arbitrary method, reduces the Bible to obscure enigmas, undermines the authority of all interpretation, and therefore, when taken by itself, failed to meet the apologetic necessities of the time. – K. Fullerton, Prophecy and Authority, quoted by Ramm p. 81
  • If there are no cues, hints, connections, or other associations which indicate that the record is an allegory, and what the allegory intends to teach, we are on very uncertain grounds.
  • The Bible treated allegorically becomes putty in the hand of the exegete.

A few other thoughts...

  • Allegorists misinterpret 2 Corinthians 3:6 “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”
  • Luther said of allegorism that it was “dirt…scum…obsolete loose rags…a harlot…a monkey game” (but he mainly applied this toward Catholics... if Christians used it for Christ, then it was somewhat allowed :o)
  • Reformers helped solidify proper hermeneutics – Luther, Calvin, Puritans, etc. – even so, the post-reformation brought on “tyrannous confessionalism; the curse of exorbitant systems; the curse of contentious bitterness…The read the Bible by the unnatural glare of theological hatred.” – F.W. Farrar, quoted by Ramm
  • Out of the post-reformation stiffness came “pietism”...with it's strengths and weaknesses:
    Pros: Devotional & practical emphasis in Bible reading is necessary
    Cons: Easy to allegorize (esp. OT when it’s more “dry”), and Devo’s may substitute for the necessary spade work of exegetical studies.

Again, these are just scatter load thoughts & pieces pulled from a briefing of Ramm's chapter on allegorism, so any corrections, thoughts or rebuttals would be welcomed.

5 comments:

Breuss Wane said...

I think Ramm is portraying a bit of a caricature in lumping the Reformers and allegory together. In "Hermeneutics", Ramm does acknowledge that theological exegesis *is* "the extension of the line of grammatical exegesis" and that "theological exegesis takes up where grammatical exegesis leaves off". While Vos might say it a little differently, I think he would agree. But that's precisely *why* the typology of Vos is not allegory but biblical theological exegesis. It is grounded in "Scripture interpreting scripture", a hermeneutical principle that Ramm affirms.

GaryDavisonJr. said...

i would get confused reading the Bible allegorically, where would i know and how would i know where to stop interpreting the allegory and then begin interpreting literally? where would the indicators be?? what are the indicators?

iamchief said...

GaryDavisonJr. said...
i would get confused reading the Bible allegorically


iamchief: EXACTLY!

Breuss Wane said...

Breuss Wane is the moniker I chose way back in the early days of the internet when Bruce Wayne had already been taken in most internet address domains.

iamchief said...

Well that's a real let down! I jus knew that "Breuss Wane" had to be some sort of allegorical/symbolic/secret spelling type of name.
Too bad.