Allegory

Allegory [N] [E] [S]

A popular form of literature in which a story points to a hidden or symbolic parallel meaning. Certain elements, such as people, things, and happenings in the story, point to corresponding elements in another realm or level of meaning. The closer the resemblances between the two realms, the more detailed is the allegory. The best allegories are interesting, coherent stories in their own right and through the story provide new insight into the realm they depict (e.g., Pilgrim's Progress and The Narnia Chronicles). Semitic parables, including the Gospel parables, have varying amounts of allegorical elements. Those with many corresponding elements in both realms are properly called allegories.

Allegorical interpretation, sometimes called allegorizing, is interpretation of texts that treats them as allegorical, whether or not their author intended them to be allegories. Allegorical interpretations even of true allegories can be misleading, either in incorrectly identifying the corresponding elements in the referent or in identifying corresponding elements where no correspondence was originally intended. Either allegorizing error usually detracts from the coherence of the message the author intended. Such unwarranted allegorizing was prevalent in the later church fathers and often ludicrous in gnostic circles.

Nathan's parable of the rich man who slew a poor man's beloved pet lamb in 2 Samuel 12:1-4 has allegorical reference to David's actions in causing Uriah's death in order to take his wife. But it was just different enough that David did not initially recognize the referent and pronounced judgment on the wicked rich man. Nathan's "You are the man!" struck David to the quick precisely because he recognized the parallels between his actions and the rich man's, between Uriah and the poor man, and between Uriah's wife and the ewe lamb. The allegory told by the wise woman of Tekoa in 2 Samuel 14:4-7 similarly opened David's eyes to a new perspective and caused him to spare the life of Absalom. (Other Old Testament allegories include Isa 5:1-6 ; Ezek 17:1-24 ; 24:3-14 ; Dan 2:31-45 ; 4:10-33 ; 7:1-28 ; 8:1-27. )

The parables of Jesus have a wide range of degrees of allegorical reference. The parable of the sower is followed by an allegorical interpretation ( Mark 4:14-20 ) that has been widely criticized, but on examination, the common objections turn out to support authenticity. For example, birds as a symbol for Satan, rather than being alien were commonly used to depict Satan in rabbinic literature (e.g., Jub 11:5-24), where birds devour seed in the process of sowing. If the Gospel tradition progressively allegorized the parables, as many allege, it is surely odd that the earliest Gospels (Mark, Matthew) contain the most allegorical elements, whereas the later Gospels contain progressively less (Luke, John).

In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul uses the story of the children of Sarah (Isaac) and Hagar (Ishmael) and the images of Jerusalem above and Mount Sinai as a double allegory, both pairs contrasting the covenant of freedom and the covenant of slavery. This allegory adds an earthy, emotional appeal to Paul's arguments for freedom in Christ.

Philip Barton Payne

See also Parable

Bibliography. P. B. Payne, Gospel Perspectives, pp. 163-207.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.


[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Allegory'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

Allegory [N] [B] [S]

used only in Galatians 4:24 , where the apostle refers to the history of Isaac the free-born, and Ishmael the slave-born, and makes use of it allegorically.

Every parable is an allegory. Nathan ( 2 Samuel 12:1-4 ) addresses David in an allegorical narrative. In the eightieth Psalm there is a beautiful allegory: "Thou broughtest a vine out of Egypt," etc. In Eccl 12:2-6 , there is a striking allegorical description of old age.

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Allegory". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .

Allegory, [N] [B] [E]

a figure of speech, which has been defined by Bishop Marsh, in accordance with its etymology as, "a representation of one thing which is intended to excite the representation of another thing." ("A figurative representation containing a meaning other than and in addition to the literal." "A fable or parable; is a short allegory with one definite moral."--Encyc. Brit.) In every allegory there is a twofold sense--the immediate or historic, which is understood from the words, and the ultimate, which is concerned with the things signified by the words. The allegorical interpretation is not of the words, but of the thing signified by them, and not only may, but actually does, coexist with the literal interpretation in every allegory, whether the narrative in which it is conveyed be of things possible or real. An illustration of this may be seen in ( Galatians 4:24 ) where the apostle gives an allegorical interpretation to the historical narrative of Hagar and Sarah, not treating that narrative as an allegory in itself; as our Authorized Version would lead us to suppose, but drawing from it a deeper sense than is conveyed by the immediate representation. (Addisons Vision of Mirza and Bunyans Pilgrims Progress are among the best allegories in all literature.)


[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Allegory,'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.

ALLEGORY

al'-e-go-ri:

The term allegory, being derived from allo agoreuein, signifying to say something different from what the words themselves imply, can etymologically be applied to any figurative form of expression of thought. In actual usage in theology, the term is employed in a restricted sense, being used however in three ways, namely, rhetorically, hermeneutically and homiletically. In the first-mentioned sense it is the ordinary allegory of rhetoric, which is usually defined as an extended or continued metaphor, this extension expanding from two or more statements to a whole volume, like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Allegories of this character abound in the Scriptures, both in Old Testament and in New Testament. Instructive examples of this kind are found in Psalms 80:8-19; Ecclesiastes 12:3-7; John 10:1-16; Ephesians 6:11-17. According to traditional interpretation of both the Jewish exegesis and of the Catholic and Protestant churches the entire book of Canticles is such an allegory. The subject is discussed in full in Terry's Biblical Hermeneutics, etc., chapter vii, 214-38.

In the history of Biblical exegesis allegory represents a distinct type of interpretation, dating back to pre-Christian times, practiced particularly by the Alexandrian Jews, and adopted by the early Church Fathers and still practiced and defended by the Roman Catholic church. This method insists that the literal sense, particularly of historical passages, does not exhaust the divinely purposed meaning of such passages, but that these latter also include a deeper and higher spiritual and mystical sense. The fourfold sense ascribed to the Scriptures finds its expression in the well-known saying:

Littera gesta docet; quid credas, allegorica; moralis, quid agas, quid speres, anagogica ("The letter shows things done; what you are to believe, the allegoric; what you are to do, the moral; what you are to hope, the anagogic"), according to which the allegorical is the hidden dogmatical meaning to be found in every passage.

Cremer, in his Biblico-Theological New Testament Lexicon, shows that this method of finding a hidden thought behind the simple statement of a passage, although practiced so extensively on the Jewish side by Aristobulus and especially Philo, is not of Jewish origin, but was, particularly by the latter, taken from the Alexandrian Greeks (who before this had interpreted Greek mythology as the expression of higher religious conceptions) and applied to a deeper explanation of Old Testament historical data, together with its theophanies, anthropomorphisms, anthropopathies, and the like, which in their plain meaning were regarded as unworthy of a place in the Divine revelation of the Scriptures. Such allegorizing became the common custom of the early Christian church, although not practiced to the same extent in all sections, the Syrian church exhibiting the greatest degree of sobriety in this respect. In this only Jewish precedent was followed; the paraphrases commonly known as the Targum, the Midrash, and later in its most extreme form in the Kabbalah, all showed this mark of eisegesis instead of exegesis. This whole false hermeneutical principle and its application originated doubtless in an unhistorical conception of what the Scriptures are and how they originated. It is characteristic of the New Testament, and one of the evidences of its inspiration, that in the entire Biblical literature of that age, both Jewish and Christian, it is the only book that does not practice allegorizing but abides by the principle of the literal interpretation. Nor is Paul's exegesis in Galatians 4:21-31 an application of false allegorical methods. Here in Galatians 4:24 the term allegoroumena need not be taken in the technical sense as expressive of a method of interpretation, but merely as a paraphrase of the preceding thought; or, if taken technically, the whole can be regarded as an argumentum ad hominem, a way of demonstration found also elsewhere in Paul's writings.

The Protestant church, beginning with Luther, has at all times rejected this allegorizing and adhered to the safe and sane principle, practiced by Christ and the entire New Testament, namely, Sensum ne inferas, sed efferas ("Do not carry a meaning into (the Scriptures) but draw it out of (the Scriptures)"). It is true that the older Protestant theology still adheres to a sensus mysticus in the Scriptures, but by this it means those passages in which the sense is conveyed not per verba (through words), but per res verbis descriptas ("through things described by means of words"), as e.g. in the parable and the type.

In homiletics allegorizing is applied to the method which draws spiritual truths from common historical statements, as e.g. when the healing of a leper by Christ is made the basis of an exposition of the healing of the soul by the Saviour. Naturally this is not interpretation in the exegetical sense.

G. H. Schodde


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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'ALLEGORY'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.