A Case Study In Allegory

Why Biblical imagery must often deviate from physical reality

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”

“The Bible Proves Archaeology True”?!

When reality and fundamentalism collide

A recent magazine editorial1 began by giving well deserved criticism of a woeful article2 in the Telegraph. It then turned to focus on “disturbing trends within the brotherhood which indicate a material shift in attitudes towards the Bible,” specifically, claiming that some think the “biblical record is not historically accurate.”

The editorial concluded that “this approach seriously compromises the Christadelphian position on the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, and we need to be alert to the implications, individually and ecclesially.” Sounds serious… Continue reading ““The Bible Proves Archaeology True”?!”

Prophet Model: the divine perspective

Challenging and questioning the dominant culture from the divine perspective

It is unsurprising to find that the poetic form and language of prophecy speaks to individual Christians in different ways. Writ large in metaphor and hyperbole, the motifs of judgement and salvation present an enduring message of hope that has universal reach. But indiscriminate application of these words to contemporary events imposes modern concerns on text intended to convey something entirely different: the divine perspective. Continue reading “Prophet Model: the divine perspective”

Prophet Model: A War of Words

Building a foundation for understanding the message of the prophets

Modern prophetic interpretation is surprisingly diverse, often presenting a bewildering array of national, personal, and cosmic predictions. Opaque scriptural symbols appear to have insufficient predictive potential, making even fulfilled prophecy frustrating to understand. As blood moons pass, “significant” dates come and go, and Planet X stubbornly refuses to destroy the earth, we are forced to reflect on our approach to prophecy. Are we doing it wrong? Continue reading “Prophet Model: A War of Words”

The rock that followed them

The Jewish background to an odd passage

One of Paul’s more unusual uses of the Old Testament is found in his warning to the believers in Corinth not to fall into the same complacency as some of the Israelites had on the Exodus. Continue reading “The rock that followed them”

5 common objections to “it cannot mean what it never meant”

It’s not the case that we have an understanding of the text without knowing the cultural context, rather we already have enough historical knowledge to forget that we need it!

Hermeneutics are the principles and methods by which we interpret the Bible, the foundation of our beliefs and practice. Sometimes we don’t spend enough time considering their importance, or we deny their relevance altogether. As Richard Beck once quipped: “a fundamentalist is a person who doesn’t think they have a hermeneutic”. Continue reading “5 common objections to “it cannot mean what it never meant””

Bridging the Gap – Culture and Language

Taking the time to carefully understand the Biblical culture of the passage at hand

“We can easily forget that Scripture is a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a crosscultural experience. To open the Word of God is to step into a strange world where things are very unlike our own. Most of us don’t speak the languages.We don’t know the geography or the customs or what behaviours are considered rude or polite. And yet we hardly notice… we tend to read Scripture in our own ‘when’ and ‘where’, in a way that makes sense on our terms.” 1

Those who have had the opportunity to travel overseas understand the need to learn about local culture in the places they are going to visit. It could be dangerous not to! You might behave quite differently in Dubai compared to how you would in London or New York. Yet we can be so familiar with the Bible that we forget that opening its pages is an experience of different languages and cultures to our own. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap – Culture and Language”

Bridging the Gap – Time and Place

To really understand our Bible, we must find ways to bridge the gap between its time and place, and our time and place.

We are separated from the people who wrote and received books of the Bible by between 2000 and 5000 years. That’s a long time! We look at black and white pictures of our grandparents or great-grandparents and wonder about how different their world was. They lived only a hundred or so years ago, the Bible is from 2000 years ago.

Our Bible was not written in 21st century English to people from a Western background. It was mainly written in the Ancient Near East to people from a very different culture to our own. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap – Time and Place”