Allegory

Many Christians are afraid of figurative interpretation. Rightly so, when people make out the bodily Resurrection to be a mere allegorical figure: a thousand times no! surrexit Christus! vere resurrexit! Likewise, when people use an irresponsible reader-response approach because the literal meaning is ‘not applicable enough’: you cannot make God say things that the texts don’t imply in their historical and canonical context.

Still, it’s no good to be a fundamentalist about these texts. Of course you interpret a parable allegorically: are we to expect to read a parable literally? Many parables are even set up as similes (‘the Kingdom of God is like’; ‘just so, I tell you’). We would do violence to a parable to fail to read it allegorically.

I still have yet to decide what I think about St Austin’s reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan,[1] the parable depicted above. As a parable, it does demand to be read figuratively, but modern scholars think a parable generally relates a single, simple, consistent action, without extraneous detail or distracting circumstances, thus making but one important point. It seems, then, that reading one of the objects in the Good Samaritan parable as the Apostle Paul would be overmuch, though the twist in the parable does seem to point at a more complicated argument. For comparison, I’m giving a link to the reading that I for my part was driven to.

But Old Testament typology, unlike parable, is not allegory. Not being Gnostics, we affirm heartily that the Old Testament figures were real historically, not just notionally: Adam was a real historical person, and so was Abraham, and so was Moses, and so was David,[2] and so the New Testament authors argue on the presupposition that they existed as historical personages. These characters’ historical signification, moreover, while they typologically correspond to Jesus Christ, is not inferior to their analogical significance: the very point of redemptive history and progressive revelation is these characters are both, as historical precursors of the historical Saviour of the world, not as foreshadowing devices (or Feuerbachian projections) heralding an allegorical character.

Typology, then, is the Christ-driven application of historical events and personages, not the negation of historical truth. Typology does not, for instance, destroy the original blood-and-sweat sense of the Psalms as their human authors wrote them, but rather it reveals the One who took on the grief and the joy of those experiences in his Incarnation and reshaped them for the New Creation, which Abraham rejoiced to see, and saw and was glad. Jesus fulfilled not only some archetypes, some Platonic forms in the sky, but as the stone the builders rejected he became the capstone of history, crucified but raised to glory.

Related:
Ideas on how to read the Proverbs as Christians’ « Anglican Evangelical;
Review of Richard B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination’ « For His Renown.

[1] His much-derided interpretation is much along the lines of the image of the manuscript above, which depicts the Good Samaritan with a Christ-halo. Since the manuscript shown is Greek, however, I imagine that the Christological interpretation was pretty widespread. Incidentally, my own, more minimalist reading goes along the same lines, though not to Austin’s degree of elaboration.

[2] Less centrally we have such characters as Jonah, whose book perhaps is not a record of actual historical events. My question is, does the Jonah typology that Jesus gives in Luke 11.29–30 depend on the historicity of the Jonah narrative?

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