Thanks Derek. We certainly are allies. And I greatly appreciate your cordial tone.
I would be delighted to take a figurative stab at answering your concerns.
YOUR CONCERN: “If we can (1) literally read ANY meaning at all into the text (let’s assume a good one), and (2) we affirm that the text as it was originally intended is wrong and indeed evil, then why bother using the text at all as our blank canvas?”
MY RESPONSE: We can’t just arbitrarily read ANY meaning into the text, even a good one. The interpretation has to come from what Martin Luther called “an influx of the Spirit.” The allegorical hermeneutic, above all else, is a spiritually dependent and interactive one. The Anabaptists of Luther’s day, in fact, called this dynamic “Spiritual Reading,” or “Pneumatic Exegesis.”
Here are some great quotes by Martin Luther on this principle:
“If God does not open and explain Holy Writ, none else can understand it; it will remain a closed book, enveloped in darkness.” M. Luther, Works, ed. J. Pelikan, XIII, p. 17.
“Therefore the first duty is to begin with a prayer of such a nature that God in His great mercy may grant you the true understanding of His words.” Werke, Weimer Auflage , XIII, p. 57.
“The Bible cannot be mastered by study or talent, you must rely solely on the influx of the Spirit.” Dr. Martin Luthers Briefwechsel, eds. E. L. Enders and G. Kawerau, I, p. 141.
“No-one can understand God or His Word who has not received such understanding directly from the Holy Ghost.” Werke, Weimer Auflage, VII, p. 546.
“For nobody understands His precepts unless it be given him from above… You understand them, however, because the Holy Spirit teaches you… Therefore those most sadly err who presume to understand the Holy Scriptures and the law of God by taking hold of them with their own understanding and study.” Werke, Weimer Auflage, LVII, p. 185; cf. XV, p. 565.
Sadly, Luther, later in his life, changed his hermeneutic from a spiritual one to a literal one. He became bitter at all his attackers and was seeking to justify wrath toward his enemies and anti-Semitic resentment toward the Jews.
My concern with the modern alternative hermeneutics I see discussed is that they give little to NO acknowledgment of pneumatic dependence. Or, put another way, the Holy Spirit’s role is marginalized at best, and eliminated at worst. When many today (certainly not you Derek) roll their eyes WHENEVER the Holy Spirit is hermeneutically acknowledged, something is terribly wrong with our thinking. This simply is not the way exegetes treated Scripture in the first several hundred years of the Church.
Admittedly, many moderns see the church fathers’ reliance on the Holy Spirit for proper Scriptural interpretation as a superstitious custom from a largely ignorant and pre-critical church. And they also point to the numerous excesses and silliness of past Holy Spirit “claims to revelation” which are floating around out there.
I couldn’t disagree more. Whatever our proper response to OTHERS’ misuse of the term “Holy Spirit” might or might not be, it CAN’T be to eliminate the Spirit’s key illuminating role altogether. That would be the ultimate throwing out the spiritual baby with the bath water. That would be like the people of Jesus’ day rightly refusing to EVER consider Him as Messiah just because other lunatic fringers had previously usurped and misused His title as messiah.
Moreover, to consider the church Fathers as intellectual primitives as many do (again, certainly not you Derek) smacks a little too much of a modern self-sufficiency. Jesus, after all, was a son of man from that same age. We certainly need to rectify the aberrant use of the Holy Spirit’s hermeneutical role, not abandon and forfeit it to hard hearted fundamentalists.
Certainly, allegorical reading can be fraught with danger if the one doing it is NOT being led by the Holy Spirit. My response to that criticism is merely this --then let’s BE led by the Spirit. Origen believed allegories must be spiritually sound to be successful. They must resonate with Apostolic faith and follow the established models set by the apostle Paul and other established exegetes. Scripture must interpret Scripture, etymological meanings considered, and humility applied. But, we must not allow our fear in Satan’s ability to deceive us exceed our confidence in the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.
Allegorical Exegesis is a RETURN to traditional Bible interpretation, not a departure from it.
"Prior to the 17th and 18th century, the Church read Scripture through the lens of the ‘rule of faith’ (regula fidei) and therefore with the understanding that the divine author of Scripture could intend meanings that went beyond, if not at times against, the original meaning intended by the human authors.
And it was always assumed (though not always consistently practiced) that the central meaning of all Scripture is Jesus Christ, since Jesus himself taught us to read it this way (Jn. 5:39-45; Lk 24: 25-27, 32, 44-47). This is clearly in line with the probing way Paul and other NT authors approached the OT. They reflect very little concern with adhering to the original meaning of passages while demonstrating a willingness to go to remarkably creative extremes to discern Christ in Scripture…
What’s most interesting today is that, while a host of scholars after Barth, and especially over the last twenty years, have been arguing for a return to the Church’s traditional way of reading Scripture, evangelicals have by and large been the most resistant to this. While evangelicals by and large reject the biblical criticism that accompanies the historical-critical approach to Scripture, they have been the most vocal defenders of the historical-critical assumption that the original meaning of a passage is the only truly legitimate meaning a passage can have." “Getting Behind the ‘Letter’ of Violent Portraits of God”, ReKnew Blog by Greg Boyd, July 18, 2013.
So again, to answer your first concern, I don’t believe we can read into Scripture ANY spiritless thing, even if it’s a good thing, unless the Spirit, Apostolic interpretive tradition, and our reason bears witness. We simply need the Holy Spirit’s influx and illumination to reveal and seal our Biblical readings and interpretations.
My response to your second concern, as to WHY we should read Scripture at ALL, if indeed it is a blank slate, is merely this: that it is NOT a blank state. And here is where we may have an irreconcilable difference, although I hope not. Scripture for me is a supernaturally influenced document. It carries an imbedded meta-narrative of the Christ. It is full of types, figures, shadows, metonymies, symbols, metaphors, mysteries and epiphanies. It is a spiritual document with spiritual subtexts, two subtexts actually, the subtext of the human author and the subtext of the divine inspirer. Sometimes these subtexts resonate with each other and sometimes they clash. This is where a lot of Scriptural confusion comes from, but more on this later.
Again, your question. Why read it at all? Especially if it is just a blank slate? My comes comes from the Emmaus Road. “And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He (Christ) INTERPRETED to them in ALL THE SCRIPTURES the things concerning himself…And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures?.. And he said unto them , These are the words which I spake unto you , while I was yet with you , that all things must be fulfilled , which were written in the LAW of Moses , and in the PROPHETS , and in the PSALMS , concerning me. Then opened he their understanding , that they might understand the scriptures.” Luke 24:26-27, 31-32, 44-45.
Jesus tells us all the Scriptures-- the LAW, the PROPHETS, and the WRITINGS (the wisdom literature), speak of HIM. That alone is reason enough to read them. Yet, when read literally, the Old Testament does NOT speak of Him. Perhaps a few prophetic passages might be said to implicitly describe Him as a coming Messiah, but the WHOLE Old Testament?? What was Jesus talking about? Well, I believe the whole Old Testament WAS allegorically speaking of Him, and that THIS is what He was explaining to the Emmaus disciples. That is the only way this Emmaus passage makes sense.
Here is another closely connected question which underlies your question? How can we allegorize a passage in a way in which the Old Testament human author did not intend at the time when he wrote it?
Let me first mention the difference between these three important words---- context, subtext, and super-text.
Simply put, context refers to the surrounding surface conditions of what the text literally says. Subtext is what the text spiritually means deep underneath it’s surface meaning. Super-text is how the particular text aligns with the overall flow and meta-narrative of the Bible.
The image of an iceberg helps here. CONTEXT is that part of an iceberg visible above the water. SUBTEXT is the larger part of the iceberg beneath the water. SUPER-TEXT is the direction and location the entire iceberg is flowing.
Now, consider the Bible. Scripture’s CONTEXT is what the text literally appears to say, taking into account the facts we historically know about author and his surroundings. Scripture’s SUBTEXT is the spiritual meaning God wants us to extract FROM the text by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Lastly, Scripture’s SUPER-TEXT is how and in what direction the overall Bible flows on the topic in question.
Here is the unique issue with Scripture. In the Bible, we are dealing with TWO different kinds of subtext. With the Bible, we have synergistic co-inputters who each bring different levels of knowledge and perspective to the text. Thus, we have two different potential subtexts-- the subtext of the human inputter AND the subtext of the divine inputter. Since we are dealing with divine and human co-inputters of a Christological meta-narrative, we need to differentiate between them when we come to allegorical reading. One inputter’s subtext can allow for it, while the other inputter’s subtext remains blissfully unaware of it.
It is important to understand and relate to the two different kinds of subtext.
The author David Baboulene, in his practical academic work on Story Theory — The Story Book — defines SUBTEXT as “the result of any form of gap in knowledge between any of the participants in a story; for example, between the author and a character, between two characters or between the audience and at least one character.”
Baboulene’s above quote on subtext is crucial BECAUSE it explains one of the least understood aspects of accurate Biblical reading. Because the Bible is INSPIRED by God but literally WRITTEN by men, there is always a “GAP IN KNOWLEDGE” between what the human writer CONTEXTUALLY and PARTIALLY knows about when he is writing VERSUS what the divine author PERFECTLY and COMPLETELY knows about the ENTIRE situation.
The bigger the gap knowledge, the more room for subtext there is. Certainly the human authors of the Old Testament were largely ignorant of the subtextual meanings imbedded in their writings, but the Holy Spirit was certainly not.
The human context of his writing usually aids and points to the human author’s intended subtext, but NOT to the divine author’s intended subtext (although Hemingway believed that even human subtext was sometimes subconscious on the part of the author). But, when dealing with the limitless gap in knowledge between God and man, the Holy Spirit can bring infinite subtextual meanings into light, some of which have no relation to the original human context.
In many cases, understanding the context does aid our subtextual reading, particularly when we are focused on discerning on what is the human author’s subtext. But, discerning the divine subtext can allow for contextual negation.
Now, let me answer your question about the genocide. In a literal sense is it resonant with the divine nature? No, certainly not. As a counter-example (which I mentioned in my previous post), does it serve to show us an example NOT to follow? Yes certainly. Such genocide is totally at odds with what Jesus stood for and taught against. So, as a counter-example, it IS beneficial to us. Also factoring in the use of justified violence in God’s name, it further serves as a sickening counterexample which we are NOT to follow.
The use of counterexample is a legitimate hermeneutical technique which Paul approved in the following passage:
“These things happened as EXAMPLES for us, so that we will NOT crave evil things as they did… NOT be idolaters, as some of them were… NOT be immoral, as some of them were… NOT put Christ to the test, as some of them did… NOT complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel (the devil). These things happened to them as [counter]examples and were written for our INSTRUCTION, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” I Corinthians 10:6-11.
So, the counterexample by itself would justify genocidal inclusion. Even apart from this level, genocidal Scriptures carry other spiritual benefits. They can be metaphorically adjusted in many fruitful ways. Just as the Israelites believed they were commanded to conquer the Promised Land, Jesus calls us to conquer the world with the Gospel of love. What the OT saints couldn’t hear, we can. They wrongly used violence. We rightly use love. They wrongly killed every breathing thing. We rightly quicken every living thing with the love of Christ. The OT had an undifferentiated view of God, which confused and commingled God and Satan together. Once we allow for their developmental distortions, we can redivide their Scripture to conform to New Testament light.
Sorry for the length here Derek, but I did want to give a quality response. I want to leave you with a question. What I call the allegorical method (you call the analogical method) obviously concerns you because of the danger of rampant subjectivity toward the text. But, let me reverse the question. How does this differ from Non-allegorical hermeneutics? Far and away, the predominant hermeneutic taught at seminaries today is a literal style of Scripture reading, non-allegorical in other words. And yet, we have 40,000 denominations with 40,O00 significantly different “literal” readings. Rampant subjectivity already reigns with literal exegesis. Allegorical reading can do no worse than the rampant hermeneutical chaos literalism has already begotten.
Reading the Bible as a spiritless lawyer, I could prove most anything I set out to prove. Wars can be easily justified. So can slavery, torture, murder, polygamy, and a million other horrors. History has borne that out. The book simply defies conventional reading styles.
Here is poem I once wrote about it:
There once was a book called the Bible
Inspired by God most reliable
Its pages reveal both problem and cure
The Old and the New have different allure
The wrath of the Old is hard to endure
But the love in the New tender and sure
But the man who reads it is often deceived
Through the lens of opinions harshly conceived
Eyeglasses of hate magnify our need
To justify anger and make enemies bleed
Eyeglasses of hardness sure to condemn
To keep men divided, it’s us against them
But some men who read it see not the dark
For they read it pure from a born again heart
The light of their eyes on the truth rightly shine
Revealing the treasures of awe now aligned
All the riches of Christ in the name of the Son
The wrath of Law, man, and Satan forever undone
The Spirit of love trains the eye how to read
It looks not at words but the space in-between
The Spirit of prayer moves the symbols around
To form bright ideas of meanings profound
Tender tone is the pen to write the word clear
Human heart the parchment on which it appears
So don’t read the Bible in the usual way
As a rulebook of laws to get your own way
Rather, dare to believe the promises imbedded
Exceeding great Scriptures to your mind become wedded
Resolve to not read it by precept or letter
But instead by the Spirit of New Covenant “better”