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Ken Berding - "Barnabas," Allegory, and the Apostolic Fathers

Categories Theology

ScrollKen Berding, creator of Sing and Learn New Testament Greek and editor of Three Views on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, has been doing a series on early Christian documents and the Apostolic Fathers.

In his most recent post he takes a look at the Epistle of Barnabas, and the problems with allagorical interpretation.

"'Barnabas' was committed to the interpretive procedure known as allegorical interpretation.  Like many authors of his period, whether Jewish, pagan, or Christian, he thought that divine texts must contain deeper meanings simply because they are divine.  So 'Barnabas' went looking for those deeper meanings…and unsurprisingly(!) found them.  The problem with allegorical interpretation is that the 'discovered' meanings are not simply deeper understandings that come through the progress of revelation (such as you might find in observing biblical patterns and themes), they regularly fall into the category of foreign meanings imposed upon texts that neither the original author nor any other later reader aware of the canonical context could access.

And therein lies the danger.  No one will complain if you read a text allegorically if the original author intended to write an allegory.  You should read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress allegorically since Bunyan intended it to be read allegorically.  Jesus intended that his 'parable' of the soils (Mark 4) was to be read in light of something else; thus it is proper to read that particular 'parable' allegorically.  Jesus there wasn’t talking about different kinds of dirt; he was talking about various ways that people receive the word.  It is appropriate to read such texts allegorically since the texts themselves offer clues that you should read them in such a manner.

But when you impose allegorically-derived meanings upon texts that in no way indicate that they should be read allegorically, you will encounter long-term problems..."

You can read the rest of his post here at Talbot's Good Book Blog.

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