Systems Of Interpretation - Part 2

Randy Bierwagen

Vol 4, No. 1

Last month, in part one we learned about Origen, who adopted a spiritualizing system of interpreting the Scriptures. He claimed that “The Scriptures are of little use to those who understand them as they are written.” 

This mystical way of interpreting Scripture that Origen adopted, was not really invented by him. Philo, a learned contemporary of the historian Josephus is said to have developed this method of interpreting Scripture.

LeRoy Froom in ‘The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers’ pg 726, 727 says;

        “Philo's bold but subtle allegorical expositions were impressed not only upon his own age but upon succeeding centuries. His influence upon the Alexandrian     Christian school of theology was profound. Clement of Alexandria, and     particularly Origen, as well as other Latin Fathers, cited him freely and     approvingly. And his allegorical principle of interpretation of Scripture soon     became an accepted form of Biblical exegesis in a large segment of the Christian     Church. Philo did for Jewry what Origen did later for Christianity.”

Froom then tells of the;

    “…tremendous influence Philo exerted, first upon his own people     and then upon     the beliefs of a large segment of the early Christian Church. And even beyond     these his influence was felt upon the teachings of Islam.” (all emphasis supplied)

This allegorical method, which Philo developed into a system, was the interpretation of a text in terms of another concept, as a parable or figuratively and at the same time he discarded the literal, element. He even declared that; 

    “…those who held to the literal interpretation of Scripture were unworthy     and superstitious.” (ibid pg. 723)

But even before Philo, this concept of spiritualizing away the literal meaning of Scripture was in use.

        “There are many beliefs that the mind has no right to entertain. In the days of     Christ the rabbis put a forced, mystical construction upon many portions of     Scripture. Because the plain teaching of God's word condemned their practices,     they tried to destroy its force. The same thing is done today. The word of God     is made to appear mysterious and obscure in order to excuse transgression of     His law. Christ rebuked these practices in His day. He taught that the word of     God was to be understood by all. He pointed to the Scriptures as of     unquestionable authority, and we should do the same. The Bible is to be     presented as the word of the infinite God, as the end of all controversy and the     foundation of all faith.  (COL 39)  

Are there controversies in the church today? When God’s Word is taken literally as it reads, it ends all controversy. There is a trend, that when God’s Word cuts across our inclinations, we expound or recommend some book or author that explains the subject in a way that is acceptable to us, but if it takes a book or a long discourse to explain some theory, then that’s probably all it is, a theory and nothing more. Why not go to the Word ourselves and accept it just as it reads?

        “Truth is straight, plain, clear and stands out boldly in its own defense, but it is     not so with error. It is so winding and twisting that it needs a multitude of words     to explain it in its crooked form.” (EW 96)

Dr. Joseph Wolff known as ‘the missionary to the world’ wrote concerning the popular system of interpreting, or more accurately misinterpreting, the Scriptures; 

        “The greater part of the Christian church have swerved from the plain sense of     Scripture, and have turned to the phantomizing system of the Buddhists; they     believe that the future happiness of mankind will consist in moving about in the     air, and suppose that when they are reading Jews, they must understand Gentiles;     and when they read Jerusalem, they must understand the church; and if it said     earth, it means sky; and for the coming of the Lord they must understand the     progress of the missionary societies; and going up to the mountain of the Lord's     house, signifies a grand class-meeting of Methodists.”  (GC88 360)

It’s interesting to note that Wolff connects this system of interpretation to Buddhists and it was noted that Islam also felt the influence of these teachings. Everything seems to get mixed up between paganism and Christianity.

When we conclude this article next month, we will see just how much the influence of this system of interpretation has affected us today.

To be continued…