The Four Senses of Scripture: The Allegorical Sense

Continuing our discussion from yesterday over at The Catholic Weekly:

Last time in this space, we looked at the first and most obvious sense of Scripture: the Literal Sense.  But what’s fascinating about this sense is how rarely the New Testament writers are interested in it when they read the Old Testament.

To be sure, they use it when they are telling you the stories about Jesus going here and there and doing such and such or the disciples’ various adventures.  They don’t mean something symbolic when they tell you Paul went to Lystra and got beaten up.  They mean Paul went to Lystra and got beaten up.

But when Jesus reads in Numbers 21 about the story of Moses making a Bronze Serpent to cure rebellious Israel of poisonous snakebite, he is not interested in teaching his hearers the Literal Sense of that story.  Why?  Because they already know it and have read it all their lives.  Instead, he is interested in the sign hidden in that story:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14)

Jesus teaches (and will teach his apostles to teach) that the Old Testament is crammed with signs and images that all point to him and his mission of death and resurrection.  He tells his disciples exactly this:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)

Accordingly, both he and his apostles will read the Old Testament with the understanding that the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is only fully revealed in the New.

Much more here.

And don’t forget, you can get the discussion of this and much more in my book Making Senses out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did.


3 Responses

  1. The ancients didn’t think the way we do. Everything was heard and memorized. For example. The Iliad and Odyssey were recited by a bard. Few people could read and write. These people lived and breathed stories and allegory.

  2. We get a big kick out of some of the names on the sides of churches, especially the ones with extra long names that have “First Church” in front of their grandiose credentials.

    Many claim to be “bible believing” churches that read the “Word of God” more literally than the group they broke off from.

    When my fourth kid is trolling us about the things he doesn’t like about his field of study, he says, “I’m just gonna quit and start my own church.
    Money and babes Yo.”

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