Sunday, January 13, 2008

Graham Keith on the Use of Allegory by Origen and Augustine

The following article is now on-line in PDF:

Graham Keith, "Can Anything Good Come out of Allegory? The Cases of Origen and Augustine," The Evangelical Quarterly 70.1 (1998): 23-49.

The subject of allegorication interpretation is essential to anyone studying the hermeneutics of the early church fathers. Graham Keith's article provides a helpful introduction to two of allegory's most famous proponents.


Though allegory is regarded with suspicion in churches today, it was enthusiastically embraced by many in the early church, including Origen and Augustine, the subjects of this paper. Origen believed not only that an allegorical interpretation was demanded by inconsistencies and absurdities in the literal text of Scripture, but that Scripture itself enjoined this hermeneutic. It was God’s way of stimulating believers to a maturer faith and discipleship. The rule of faith gave a framework in which error could be avoided.

Augustine shared Origen’s respect for the church’s traditional teaching. He differed, however, in the essentially aesthetic qualities he found in allegory. This was a technique he believed would give added pleasure to any worthwhile work of literature. He was also happy to accommodate a variety of suitable meanings in some passages of Scripture since he felt that human words were limited and sometimes obscure.

With their use of allegory, Origen and Augustine raise the question how do particular passages of Scripture set in a specific time and environment relate to the things that are unseen and eternal? They did, not, however, provide a suitable rationale to justify the various connections they made through allegory between diverse parts of the Bible.

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