The Beauty of Scriptural Allegory

by Joshua Tilghman on May 19, 2012


Was the Bible really meant to be taken literally? What if I could show you multiple scriptures from the Bible itself stating that it’s not? In my last blog post, we discussed how Paul himself boldly proclaimed the Old Testament story of Abraham and his progeny was nothing more than an allegory (found here). In this post I will present more evidence that most, if not all, of the Bible stories are meant to be read in a non-literal manner. We will also discuss how the Bible becomes a much more beneficial and powerful tool (especially for salvation) when we understand that it is not literal.

Before we get into the scriptures that teach us not to interpret the Bible literally, we need to understand that narratives provide a powerful impression upon the mind. Take a few historical people or events and place them within a chronological narrative and you can impress a literal, historical viewpoint in no time!

I want you to pay close attention to an interesting article put out by BBC called Building the Pentagon’s ‘like me’ Weapon which becomes very relevant to our discussion. The author of this article explains that the Pentagon, through the use of neurobiology, is working on a device that could replace public relation experts by advising them on what to say (how to get in people’s heads) to calm potentially violent people. But I want to focus on a few quotes from the article showing how narratives affect the human mind. Consider the ones below:

“One program, started last year by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, even looks at finding ways to generate versions of events that could be used in attempts to persuade people not to support the enemy. Know as Narrative Networks, it seeks to understand how narratives influence human thoughts and behavior…”

“The idea is straightforward: scientists have long known that narratives exert a powerful force on the human mind, helping to shape people’s concept of individual and group identities, even motivating them to conduct violent acts.”

 Okay, so the government knows that narratives can deeply affect the way people act, even making them violent. So what? But look at the religious contention around the world, especially in the Middle East. Isn’t it mostly religious narratives that are responsible for the violent scenarios? As we well know all of them can’t be right. Yet individual believers are so passionate about the literal history of their scriptures. Why? Because chronological narrative is powerful! Even the Pentagon is willing to spend millions on the research into this subject.

Consider ancient Greek mythology. What many people may not realize is that the Greek stories of Gods and Goddesses were originally told by authors who wanted to teach us about spiritual truths through metaphor and allegory. But then later generations came along and committed idolatry with those stories. In other words, they began to interpret them literally! Why? Because later generations began to embellish the stories and turn them into chronological narratives. This was all that was needed to make the stories acceptable to the human mind as literal history. This was a grave mistake because the deep spiritual insights taught by these stories were sacrificed for a belief system that caused superstition and fear. Many were scared to death of offending the gods who they thought were in the heavens watching them.  

The same scenario has played itself out in the mainstream Christian mind. There are most definitely some names and events in the Bible that are historical. But these historical events were also embellished by later generations. Before long, the entire Old and New Testaments became literal history that spanned the course of many thousands of years. Originally, these stories were meant as allegories to teach us great spiritual insight! But when we focus on the literal story, we lose sight of the spiritual lesson and the result is what happens to everything in the physical: death.

Let’s look at some scriptures to support the above conclusions. Consider 2 Corinthians 3:6:

 Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament, not of the letter but of the spirit for the letter kills but the spirit gives life.”

Paul is telling us that the “letter” (literal interpretation) of the scripture kills! The letter is also the law. The literal scripture, or the law, kills because it deals with you on the physical level. All physical life ends in death. Paul wants us to go beyond the literal mindset to a spiritual mindset. This is the “new testament” Paul is speaking of. It’s not a new literal testament, it’s a different mindset.

Just in case you didn’t quite buy into the whole idea of the “letter” being the literal interpretation, let me give you another scripture to make this crystal clear:

“He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, but he is a Jew which is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter.” (Romans 2:29).

In the above scripture the “letter” is the literal circumcision. It’s also the literal interpretation. Thus the “letter” of the law is the literal interpretation!

Now you can understand why God can tell Abraham that the physical circumcision was an “everlasting covenant” but Paul can deny it. If this covenant between God and Abraham were literal history, Paul could not teach that literal circumcision wasn’t important because Genesis specifically states that literal circumcision for Abraham and his seed is an eternal covenant. But as Paul said, the story of Abraham’s progeny was an “allegory.” It was only written down to teach us a spiritual principle. That’s why he became hated by the Pharisees!

In a former blog post, I mentioned another important scripture which I shall repeat here:

“But even unto this day when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when they shall turn to the Lord the veil shall be taken away.” (2 Corinthians: 3:15).

Do you realize how many Christians have the veil over their eyes as they read the scriptures today? Everyone who reads it literally!” The veil shall be taken away when people learn the keys to unlocking the parables and allegories of all the Bible stories! This is where the true wisdom of the scriptures lies.

Psalms 78:2-3 confirms this: “I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known and our fathers have told us.”

A “dark saying” is another way of saying a riddle. It’s no different than a parable. In the next few verses the Psalmist states that their children will know the works of God and that they will not be hidden from them. The Psalmist is telling us that all the great exploits and characters of the Bible that came before them were told in riddles! And wisdom is needed to unlock the meaning.

True spiritual transformation will only come about by the masses when the masses realize that scripture is not great because of its literal history, but because of the spiritual truths taught within it through the use of myth, symbol, and allegory! The real beauty of myth, symbol, and allegory is that it’s not limited like literal history. Therefore it is the only way to explain spiritual concepts which are infinite in nature (because spirit is infinite). We must learn that Spiritual truth is not understood by the mind; it can only be understood by the heart, or the spirit. The Apostle Paul understood all too well that literal history was the cause for arguments and contention, which is why he told us to:

“…avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and vain.” (Titus 3:9

In conclusion I want to say that It is useless to discuss whether Abraham’s promised son was Isaac or Ishmael, or whether Solomon’s empire was really a historical empire. The spiritual intent of these stories is what’s important.

To understand myth and allegory is more of an intuitive intelligence and not what the “thinking” mind can understand. It is a right-brained, abstract exercise. Humans lose the ability to think intuitively when they only think carnally, especially when it comes to spirituality.

Feel free to visit the archive page on this site to see titles that further explain and teach this principle, and don’t forget to spread the love by hitting one of the social buttons at the top of this post!

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

john April 14, 2013 at 3:19 pm

I am on board, Thank You Joshua, thank you!

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SL January 3, 2016 at 11:44 pm

Same here.

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Javon February 16, 2016 at 4:00 am

Are you saying the whole old testament is a allegory . Or just some stories ?

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Joshua Tilghman February 21, 2016 at 9:15 am

Javon,

For the most part, yes. Of course it is based on many historical landmarks and people, but the Old Testament’s true spiritual gems lie in the fact that it isn’t meant to be interpreted literal.

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