I have been a committed and passionate student of the Scriptures since 1973, almost fifty years. My commitment and passion has been fueled by the sure belief that the Bible was inspired and has been preserved by Father God as a reliable guide to His holy nature and divine will intended by Him for us to read and understand.
My studies have served to reaffirm that conviction and my diligence has been rewarded with a greater understanding and insight of what the Scriptures teach. So I was concerned when I read an article titled “Interpreting the Bible Just Got More Complicated” by Dr. Hugh Houghton writing for The Daily Beast.
The title of the article suggests interpreting the Scriptures is too complicated and is based on the relatively obscure commentary of a fourth century scholar, Fortunatianus of Aquileia. He believed the Bible should be interpreted allegorically, not literally, and Dr. Houghton said this agrees with what the third century theologian Origen of Alexandria taught.
Based on their views Dr. Houghton concludes “you don’t have to read the Bible literally,” and “for most of the Christian era nobody thought you should.” If the allegorical interpretation of Scripture was the widespread accepted method of understanding the Bible in early Christianity, why did it lapse into obscurity?
The answer is because the allegorical method was so questionable that the majority of believers deemed it unworthy of their continued attention. It fell into obscurity for a reason; it did not enjoy the widespread popularity in the Christian community that Dr. Houghton claims.
The allegorical method of interpretation is inherently flawed; it subjects the meaning of the Scriptures to the personal perspective of the interpreter. And the Scriptures themselves tell us they are not “a matter of one’s own interpretation,” 1 Peter 1:20. The allegorical method also suggests we cannot understand the Scriptures for what they plainly say.
The Scriptures are a straightforward claim to be a historical record of God’s interactions with men and understanding the historical context is important in understanding why God said what He did. He couched this revelation of Himself in human language so that understanding the interplay between semantics, what words mean, and syntax, the way words are put together to convey meaning, is important to interpreting His Word.
There are no hidden meanings, the Bible should be trusted to mean what it plainly says, although the mind darkened by sin and reluctant to accept the truth contained therein may find it incomprehensible. But every believer is promised “the Spirit of truth” who will guide us “into all truth,” John 16:13.
For these reasons the common and orthodox accepted method of interpreting the Scriptures is the historical, grammatical, plain meaning of the Text. If we believe the Scriptures are the Word of God, it is imperative that we interpret them in that way.
Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” John 8:31-32. The Scriptures are a straightforward historical record not a collection of fables; that’s why its first words are “In the beginning” and not “Once upon a time.”