Perhaps the most famous Christian allegory comes, not from the pages of the Bible, but rather from the pen of John Bunyan in 1678. His work, “The Pilgrims Progress”, describes in vivid detail a long journey taken by a man named ‘Christian’ from the ‘City of Destruction’ to the ‘Celestial City’. This text illustrates many Christian concepts, and teaches many spiritual lessons. It has captivated readers for generations around the globe.
But for many believers, the concept of allegory remains obscure. It is accepted as legitimate, in theory, but in practice it is not well understood or defined. It would seem on the surface to be an elusive catch phrase for any type of spiritual symbolism we would like to superimpose upon any particular Biblical text. The fact is that alleged allegories are often arbitrary and speculative, and for no good reason. There exists an almost limitless number of ways in which one might claim allegorical meaning from any passage.
It turns out there is only one explicit instance of the word ‘allegory’ in the whole Bible. In Galatians 4, Paul uses it to describe his spiritual exposition of Abraham’s two wives and two sons. This certainly does not preclude the existence of other allegories elsewhere1, but it does provide us with a clear test case for the genre. And since Paul leans on Isaiah to make his point, we should do the same. Continue reading “A Case Study In Allegory”