Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Allegorical Hermeneutic

Origen is typically considered the father of the allegorical hermeneutic within the Church.  I have yet to read Origen himself (it's on my list, somewhere), but there seems to be a fair amount of support for this (although Ignatius Insight seeks to modify the view some).

Let's look at what the Copts (a form of Eastern Orthodoxy) have to say:
"Origen's consistent principle of interpretation was: explaining the Bible by the Bible, that is obscure or difficult passages should be explained by other passages, from anywhere else in the Bible. The whole Bible must be allowed to speak for itself, what ever a single text may seem to say; and it must be permitted to speak not merely in its own behalf, but in the name of God." (emphasis in original)
This is an excellent point!  Score one for Origen.
"Origen believes that for only those who have the Spirit of Jesus can understand their spiritual meaning" (emphasis in original)
This could be interpreted harshly (as Gnosticism), but I think that is not necessary.  There is certainly an aspect of Scriptural interpretation which requires first that one is a believer.  There are many non-believers who interpret Scripture, and do so improperly (there are also non-believers who are able to honestly interpret portions of Scripture).
Let's see it in practice:
"Origen sees that, in the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the fire that bakes the bread of exegesis is the love of God, the inspiration that comes from the Spirit and acts both on the inspired writer and on his interpreter. The bread which the preachers cut into pieces and distribute to the crowd is the spiritual meaning."
Ok, that's just crazy talk! There is nothing about hermeneutics in the feeding of the five thousand.

The problem is, this analysis sounds "deep" and "spiritual". The hearer oohs and ahhs over the power of the imagination of the speaker, The hearer never heard this before - what a powerful revelation, it must be from God! /s

But this can go anywhere.

For example, I could say that the fire that bakes the bread is the wrath of God, poured out on the many who have a passing interest in God but lack saving faith; while the leftovers represent the faithful remnant.

Who is right? How could we know? Whichever feels right? Whichever speaker is more persuasive or politically connected?

The literal method is not immune to uncertainty, but at least the context is going to keep the interpretation within some circumscribed space.

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