In fact, most of the time…
The Chronicles of Narnia; Pilgrim’s Progress; even Animal Farm; these are allegorical books, written on one level but symbolizing deeper truth meant to be understood on a different level. This is a time-honored style of writing, and much good has been done by such works. But there are some who seem to want to use this type of interpretive principle for the Bible, reasoning that since it is a supernatural book (true!), it contains “hidden meanings” and “deeper meanings” and “allegorical meanings” that we can find, indeed need to find, if we are to unlock its mysteries and understand its secrets.
To which we respond that, while the Bible is a supernatural book, it is not a “magical” book, to be understood and interpreted in ways that contradict the normal, ordinary ways in which literature is understood.
At least a couple things converge to cause me to write this post: one, another thread here on TNKZ has dealt with Harold Camping (that thread has finally managed to simmer down now), and went from my concerns with his penchant for date-setting (I consider that unbiblical and foolish) to his fanciful hermeneutics; i.e., his willingness to find hidden, allegorical meanings in the plain text of Scripture. Two, I had a conversation with my dad just this past weekend about this very thing, Bible teachers who seem to want to find “deeper meanings” in the plain text of Scripture, to see in historical narratives, for instance, some more “spiritual meanings” than the simple outworking of God’s plan of redemption.
But sometimes, a duck is just a duck.
Finishing my series on the book of Acts, I came across this piece from John R. W. Stott, detailing the silly allegorical interpretation of one “Bible scholar” who insisted that Acts 27, Paul’s storm at sea and eventual shipwreck, carried such allegorical meaning. According to this author,
“The ship is the visible church, whose history has been a voyage from ‘its pristine perfection’ in Jerusalem at Pentecost, through ‘much contrary wind and violent storms’ (persecution and false doctrine) to ‘its moral and spiritual wreck in Rome’, that is, in the Roman Catholic Church. Those on board are a mixed multitude. Some resemble the centurion, who believed the captain and owner of the ship (church leaders) ‘more than those things which were spoken by Paul’, while others, even in the midst of darkness, storm, and fear, listen to Paul’s teaching and are saved. These also throw the wheat into the sea, casting their bread on the waters, that is, broadcasting gospel seed far and wide. The crew struggle to undergird the ship (well-meaning people who try to hold the church together by union schemes). But they cannot prevent it from being wrecked, from being broken into a thousand fragments.”
Well. That’s a nice little story, but hopefully my readers will see the problem (or one of them, at least) immediately: the locus of understanding becomes, a la postmodernism, come to think of it, the reader/interpreter himself, and not the actual meaning of the text as delivered by, in this case, Luke. Using this approach, can any allegorical undertaking be ruled off limits? What’s to stop another “interpreter” from seeing in the ship “the world”, and building some kind of “truth” out of that? Answer? Nothing.
And that, my friends, is a dangerous hermeneutic.
Because sometimes…well, you know…