Biblical Hermeneutics: The Interpretation of Scripture

The Allegorical Method

Image © Stan Myers from GoodSalt.com

Image © Stan Myers from GoodSalt.com

The allegorical method is a method of assigning “hidden meanings” to passages of Scripture, limited only by individual imagination. This method was used to arrive at the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church which are not supported by a more natural interpretation. Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin rejected this method because it tended to ignore the plain sense of passages and were impossible to critique in any fair manner. (How exactly was one to know if such allegories were true or not?)

The allegorical method of the interpretation has a long history among the Greeks, pre-dating Christianity, and it was adopted by Jewish scholars before Christ. It was apparently first used among Christians by the “church father,” Origen or Origen Adamantius (184/185 – 253/254). It allowed him to find support in Scripture for some ideas that were not supported by a more natural meaning.

While Adventists have generally rejected the allegorical method, it tends to creep in when certain individuals believe they have discovered “new light” in Revelation or even in the Old Testament sanctuary. For instance, items in the sanctuary are assumed to have hidden meanings that are nowhere referenced either in Scripture or the writings of Ellen White. The same is done in Revelation, with no way of determining whether the interpretation is correct, as contrasted with the historicist method which contains checks and balances in reference to biblical typology and actual dates in history.

While it may be reasonable to draw parallels, as in “This reminds us of …,” we should beware of persons who declare “This means that …” without any support in Scripture.

We believe that the only proper use of allegory in interpreting Scripture is when the texts itself instructs us to do such, as in Galatians 4:24.


For more on the topic of hermeneutics (the interpretation of Scripture), see the following:

A Truthful Ministry by L.H. Christian

Another Look at Adventist Hermeneutics by George W. Reid

Interpreting Scripture According to Scripture by Richard M. Davidson

Preaching and Bliblical Interpretation by Norval F. Pease

Three Schools of Prophetic Interpretation by George McReady Price

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