I must be dumb

Discussion in 'Exegetical Forum' started by jciz75, Mar 7, 2018.

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  1. jciz75

    jciz75 Puritan Board Freshman

    Dockery describes Origen’s hermeneutical approach as threefold: He thought that Scripture had three different, yet complementary, meanings; (1) a literal or physical sense, (2) a moral or psychical sense, and (3) an allegorical or intellectual sense. The threefold sense was based upon his belief in a corresponding threefold division of mankind” (1) the physical, (2) the emotional or psychical, and (3) the spiritual or intellectual.

    Origen’s hermeneutic was derived, in part, from his view of the trichotomist nature of man. Nassif says: Just as human beings consist of body, soul and spirit, so also do the Scriptures. The bodily sense of a text was either the historical or literal meaning. The soulish meaning of a text contained a figurative exhortation to avoid vice and grow in virtue. It was the moral or ethical teaching. The third level was the spiritual meaning of Scripture. It contained the allegorical sense which was the most profound level appropriate to God and humanity. It reveals God’s plan of salvation through Christ’s incarnation. But it is known only to a mature group of elite believers… He believed that truth was conveyed “in enigmas and symbols, in allegories and metaphor, and in similar figures.”

    According to the allegorical method, “Hidden meanings abound everywhere, such as Sarah in Genesis as wisdom, and to Hagar as the wisdom of the world. In the Garden of Eden the tree of life meant “divine thought.”

    After reading some conclusions that 2nd century allegorists came up with, I have come to a conclusion. If they are correct that only the "intellectual elite" people can understand their exegetical conclusions, then I must not be one of the "intellectual elite." I have tried to figure out how they come to their conclusions, but I fail to see their interpretation of those texts.
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  3. jciz75

    jciz75 Puritan Board Freshman

    It actually is the forefather of the Quadriga. The method above is known as the Alexandrian method of interpretation that was developed as a response to 2nd century heresies that claimed the OT was not for Christians (See Marcion and other Gnostic's). The opposing view, which was the forefather of the exegetical-historical as well as typological methods, developed in Antioch around the same tame as the allegorical method was developing in Alexandria.

    The Alexandrian method was a major influence of the Middle Ages hermeneutical practice called "Quadriga". The Middle Age practice then gave way to the Reformation and post-Reformation practice which pulled more heavily on the prior Antiochene typological and historical-grammatical methods.

    Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. My church history is a bit rusty.
  4. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, unfortunately, this was popular historic thought. The problem is it makes exegesis existential and no two people can agree on "the correct" allegory. When scripture's deepest meanings are subjective, the product is disunity.
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Let's think a bit more deeply about this question.

    I was taught a 20th century version (via L.Berkhof) of the modern read of the problems of ancient interpretation. It is not my intention to disparage what has come to be known as the recovery of a grammatico-historical hermeneutic coming out of the Reformation. But it is to challenge both the historiography for justifying, and the reductionist trend of, much modern interpretation and regard for the ancient schools.

    When looking at Origen's triple-approach, if all one does is take his "analogy" to a triple-scheme for human nature as a starting point for him, this totally overlooks his own regard for his inheritance. It's as if we thought Origen just asked a question out of the blue, "How should I interpret Scripture?" and predicated his answer as latching blindly onto his antecedent theory of human nature.

    Origen was an heir both of secular Alexandria's learning and a couple generations of Christian learning. Someone taught him his beginning biblical hermeneutics. It is much more likely that Origen's hermeneutic is an influential (to later students) presentation of the ongoing science of interpretation. We have not yet answered the basic question: "Why did interpretation skew in an 'Origenist' direction?"

    A better analysis of Origen's triple scheme is to recognize in it signs of an earlier pattern--one that is not unknown to us. Even to us, Scripture--especially the historic, OT portions--is understood to have a simple historical presentation (what happened), as well as inviting ethical analysis (is what happened "good" or "bad") and how those ethics direct the current reader; and thirdly, demanding of the astute Christian interpreter investigation of the redemptive-historical, Christological import of the text.

    Now, for Origen to map these concerns to "human nature" is a philosophical move, in the ongoing effort to describe a biblical anthropology. We can and should find fault with his analysis, but he wasn't trying to be original. In our circles, we usually appeal to what seems to be the more plainly biblical dichotomous human nature (body/soul). And we should doubt it is proper to map our hermeneutical efforts to a philosophical connection between man's constitution and the text. Origen was wrong, but he aimed at a reasonable inference.

    Here's an interesting observation. Both of 1) much of Origen's teaching, and 2) the "Anteochean school"--usually described as anti-Origenist, were condemned at one point or another by the ancient church. I just listened to Dr.Godfrey (WSC, retired) talk about how Origen was both 1) wrong more often than not; and 2) a brilliant pioneer who was among the first to ask some really important questions for the church. All the while, he was trying not to be a "innovator." Here's my attempt to quote Godfrey from memory, "Heading off-road in a later age is rebellion; in the days of the pioneer it is pathmaking."

    To come back again to the hermeneutical question. Take a look again at Origen's triple, or the later Augustinian and medieval quadriga. Look at it with a sympathetic eye, rather than a reactionary. There's no justification for basically ignoring the historical narrative, or treating it as little more than a frame for the words on the page--words that can then be turned into allegorical plastic. But again, why would the truth-loving church ever be drawn to fanciful treatment of any part of Sacred Scripture?

    Some of the relevant historical facts: The sub-apostolic age saw an immediate and precipitous decline in the church's theological quality. Persecution/martyrdom accounts for some of this; as does the loss of substantial Jewish presence (for leadership, knowledge of Hebrew, etc.). Furthermore, in the providence of God, the church was called on to make systematic (dogmatic) defense of key doctrines; and the task of strengthening biblical theology took a back seat for several centuries. So, it was a matter of recovery by the 4th-5th Centuries.

    Now consider the question: why was the Antiochean school condemned? Simplistic answers are too often given. "Alexandrian exegesis was more popular," isn't a very good reply. There was real concern that the literalist direction of later Antiochean exegetes was a problem. It was a threat... to what?

    To answer the second question, consider something that has taken place since the 18th century in biblical studies. Hyper-literalism made a comeback. Rome would like to say (or used to say, before she bought into higher criticism herself) that this sort of treatment of the Bible is just what the Reformation was bound to bring along.

    Now then, critical-methods of Bible study or analysis could have arisen out of the non-Roman milieu more easily or visibly than within Rome's borders; but this is a genetic fallacy. The recovery of the value of the literal-sense of Scripture by the Reformers (and before them, the Renaissance humanists) did not produce in them a distaste for the ethical value of any portion of Scripture; nor did it lead them to deny the typological, Christological center of any portion of Scripture.

    What they did was refound biblical hermeneutics on the soundest of historical and grammatical footings. They did this in order to impose a proper restraint on the allegorical flights of fancy that preachers from the time of Augustine down to theirs had been tempted to indulge in. If one was going to propose a meaning of deeper significance should be taken from a given passage, that meaning had to have more than a textual toe-hold (if that). But one thing they did not do was take a reductionist approach; later on rationalists and after them skeptics did so.

    As for the Antiochean school, it was condemned because the ancient church was afraid the direction of this school was to lose for the church what it had kept (so far as it could in dark days), namely the interpretation of the OT as Christian (Christ-focused) Scripture, by hyper-literalism. When we read this decision as nothing more than a triumph of fanciful, Origenist allegory over sound methods, we are doing bad history.

    A few other observations. The dispensationalists claimed they were just being "literal," and this was their leverage against the mainline liberals (modernist and rationalist). As if the problem in those churches was that they had kept or gone back to Romanist exegesis. However, the dispensational hermeneutic was just another branch of the rationalist tree.

    There's an awful lot of "ethical moralism" going on in today's pulpits. People want to get beyond the story to the meaning of it; but merely noting the place in longer Israelite history is frankly unsatisfying. They aren't taught to look to Christ everywhere, so they are left with ethical advice; or worse, with successful life-coaching.

    Honestly, it makes good sense to understand what Origen means when he claims that it takes deep study and mature faith to find "Christ in all of Scripture." That's a major reason why congregations should hire well-trained pastors: not because ordinary Christians cannot read the Bible and find the surface details of history, or even usually find the ethical purpose in a text. But because the job of pointing people to Jesus from OT and NT is of particular concern to the preacher.

    I am a minister of the GOSPEL. It is a lifetime labor to do this well. Regular pew-sitters can learn to do this competently also, let me be clear. But it's not being "elitist" to say that this is a professional competency no pastor should be without. No more than it is "elitist" to say that a doctor is more adept at his healing task than a non-medical professional, or an experienced mother.

    Not long ago I preached a message on Gen.21:22-34, the text that follows the banishment of Ishmael. I have a commentary by W.H.Griffith Thomas on my shelf, actually don't find it very helpful generally; but he does give a reliably orthodox treatment of the text. His treatment of this text is utterly useless. The title of his chapter is "The Daily Round," and he regards this section as some sort of curious vignette of Abraham's life at the time; nothing more profound in it than a believing soul in his daily conversations. A random snapshot.

    Suffice to say, there is no relation of this incident either to the previous encounter of the two men back in ch.20, or to the immediate preceding context. Nor is there any help drawn from later revelation for interpreting this passage. Oh yea, and no Jesus (sure his name is mentioned on the last page, but that's not the point) and no gospel. The entire passage is reduced to an ethical lesson. If your pastor can't point you to Jesus in this or any other passage, he's not fulfilling that aspect of his task.
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