The Bible should be read allegorically

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When interpreted literally, the Bible is contrary to fact, logic and common sense. The most obvious examples are the scientific inaccuracies in the Bible, the historical inaccuracies, and internal contradictions, such as the death of Judas Iscariot Matthew 27:5 Bible-icon.png Acts 1:18 Bible-icon.png. There is also no good reason to prefer the literal interpretation over other interpretations. Many people, particularly in the Medieval period, have therefore opted to primarily interpret the Bible as allegorical [1].

Allegorical interpretations are generally rejected by Christians in the Protestant tradition and are often avoided in Western culture in general.[1]



Jesus taught in parables (which were allegorical) to the public, but the meaning was explained to his disciples in private. Luke 8:10 Bible-icon.png

Many of the miracles of Jesus also have obvious allegorical meanings, which probably should take precedence over their (absurd) literal meanings:

The Gospels, and perhaps the whole Bible, could therefore be understood as one large metaphor. Richard Carrier argues that Jesus may have been a character in an allegory that was privately explained to people within the religious group.

"[...] Christians could already have been preaching the exoteric myth (some form of proto-Mark, for example) in 64 [C.E.], as an allegory (an extended parable) whose real meaning (it's [sic] esoteric meaning, that of a cosmic event) would be explained only to initiates[2]"

Paul of Tarsus

Paul interprets Genesis 16:1-6 Bible-icon.png allegorically in Gal 4:21-24 Bible-icon.png. He again uses an allegorical interpretation in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 Bible-icon.png.

2 Corinthians 3

2 Corinthians 3:2-4,6 Bible-icon.png was taken by many Church fathers, including Origen of Alexandria, St. Augustine and St. Jerome[3] to mean the Bible should be read allegorically. (Later Biblical scholars reject this interpretation.)

"You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. [...] He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

2 Corinthians 3:2-3,6 Bible-icon.png
"[Augustine] made [2 Cor. 3:6] mean that the spiritual or allegorical interpretation was the real meaning of the Bible; the literal interpretation kills.[4]"
"Origen is credited with the view that [in 2 Cor. 3:6] Paul refers to two alternate levels of meaning withing the Old Testament scripture and two alternate levels of meaning within the Old Testament scripture and two corresponding methods of reading and understanding it.[5]"
"[Origen taught that] God placed [logical impossibilities] in Scripture to point the interpreter "to the need for a deeper understanding" which he could only "reach by giving careful attention to context, wording, and parallels." So the literal sense was considered inferior and even misleading. [3]"

"For that teaching which brings to us the command to live in chastity and righteousness is “the letter that killeth,” unless accompanied with “the spirit that giveth life.” For that is not the sole meaning of the passage, “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life,” which merely prescribes that we should not take in the literal sense any figurative phrase which in the proper meaning of its words would produce only nonsense, but should consider what else it signifies, nourishing the inner man by our spiritual intelligence, since “being carnally-minded is death, whilst to be spiritually-minded is life and peace.”"

St. Augustine[6]

Counter arguments

Many apologists assert a different interpretation, which is not particularly justified:

"The word “letter” (gramma) stands, not for what we call the literal meaning of Scripture, as contrasted with one which is allegorical or spiritual, but for the whole written code or law of Judaism.[7]"
"This is one of the very numerous "texts" which have been first misinterpreted and have then been made, for whole centuries, the bases of erroneous systems. On this text more than any other, Origen, followed by the exegetes of a thousand years, built his dogma that the Scripture must be interpreted allegorically, not literally, because "the letter" of the Bible kills. The misinterpretation is extravagantly inexcusable [...][8]"
"On the other hand, since Chrysostom commentators have held that the πνεύμα of II Cor. 3:6 refers to the holy spirit understood personally as representative of the new covenant just as the stone tables of the law are representative of the old covenant.[5]"

Even if πνεύμα refers to the holy spirit, that does not mean γράμμα refers to the old covenant.

Early Christians

Origen of Alexandria was one of the most influential allegorical interpreters of the Bible. His view was based partly on 1 Corinthians 2:13 Bible-icon.png, 2 Corinthians 3:6 Bible-icon.png, etc.

"For our contention with regard to the whole of divine scripture is that it all has a spiritual meaning, but not all a bodily meaning; for the bodily meaning is often proved to be an impossibility."

Origen of Alexandria

Origen also recounts a traditional allegorical interpretation of the parable of the good Samaritan.[9]

"The Catholic faith, … I now realized could be maintained without presumption. This was especially true after I had heard one or two parts of the Old Testament explained allegorically—whereas before this, when I had interpreted them literally, they had “killed” me spiritually."

St. Augustine

"As we are clearly aware that the Savior teaches His people nothing in a merely human way, but everything by a divine and mystical wisdom, we must not understand His words literally [σαρκίνως] but with due inquiry and intelligence we must search out and master their hidden meaning."

Clement of Alexandria

It was also used by Philo of Alexandria and Cyril.

In contrast, a more literal approach was taken Antiochian school, including Diodore of Tarsus, John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret of Cyrrhus. [10]

Later writers

"Many things are narrated in Scripture as real, and were believed to be real, which were in fact only symbolical and imaginary."

Baruch Spinoza (presumably referring to the Jewish Torah)
"Above all, words must be recognized as symbolic pointers to truth, not objective containers of truth.[11]"

The Song of Solomon is usually interpreted allegorically.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 [1]
  2. Carrier, On The Historicity of Jesus, p.346
  3. 3.0 3.1 Randall C. Gleason, Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11
  4. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics
  5. 5.0 5.1 Carol K. Stockhausen, Moses' veil and the glory of the new convenant
  6. [2]
  7. Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
  8. Pulpit Commentary
  9. [3]
  10. [4]
  11. John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (1994), p. 37.

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