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Allegory in Theology

Allegory. As in the case of literary texts, allegory in the case of theology is a figure of speech in which language conveys an idea or a description by indirect means. That is, an allegory describes a thing not in its own terms but in terms of something else, much in the manner of poetry. In the theological context, the allegory may be extended, consisting of manifest descriptions or other language with concrete referents while conveying latent and/or complex ideas and meanings with moral content and spiritual import. Biblical parables, for example, can be read as allegorical. They function as straightforward, literal narratives but also are meant to convey deeper meanings. Scripture that is read "allegorically" has been said to "contain[] deeper meanings put there (inspired) by God" but not necessarily manifest. For the Christian fathers, who "almost total[ly] disregard[ed] . . . the literal meaning of the text," allegory became instrumental in supporting the view that "every word of scripture contained a prophecy about Jesus."

Controversy has historically surrounded the concept of allegory in theology, which has a dialectical and often hostile relationship with literalist interpretations of biblical text. The patristic-era commentator Origen despised "literalists" who did not appreciate the wealth of poetry and metaphor in the biblical texts and therefore "believe[d] such things about [God] as would not be believed of the most savage and unjust of men." Origen understood that the authors of biblical texts understood poetry. At Luke 6:39 the King James version has "And he spake a parable unto them." That suggests that the parables are allegories; for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan can be interpreted as an allegory of tolerance. At Luke 6.39 the Catholic New American Bible has "He also used images in speaking to them," which is almost literal in setting up the concept of poetic imagery as a device of communicating. ...

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Allegory in Theology. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:15, April 21, 2019, from