Allegories & Types Part 3: The Danger Zone Beyond Wise Limits

2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Peter 3:16
       Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
       In which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

THOMAS BROOKS (1608-1680): Many have and many do miserably pervert the Scriptures by turning them into vain and groundless allegories. Oh friends! It is dangerous to bring in allegories where the Scripture does not clearly and plainly warrant them.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Once begin allegorizing Scripture, and you never know where you are to stop. You may prove anything and find anything in the Bible upon the allegorical system, and at last throw open the floodgate to a torrent of wild fanaticism.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Origen,* for example, very notably exceeded what can be regarded as wise interpretation in giving spiritual meaning to literal records.

A. P. GIBBS (1890-1967): He practically spiritualized everything.

C. H. SPURGEON: And others, who essayed to go yet farther than that master of mysticism, very soon did much damage to the church of God, bringing precious truths into serious discredit.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Origen, and many others along with him, have seized the occasion of torturing Scripture, in every possible manner, away from the true sense. They concluded that the literal sense is too mean and poor, and that, under the outer bark of the letter, there lurks deeper mysteries, which cannot be extracted but by beating out allegories. And this they had no difficulty in accomplishing; for speculations which appear to be ingenious have always been preferred, and always will be preferred, by the world to solid doctrine. With such approbation the licentious system gradually attained such a height, that he who handled the Scriptures for his own amusement not only was suffered to pass unpunished, but even obtained the highest applause. For many centuries no man was considered ingenious, who had not the skill and daring necessary for changing into a variety of curious shapes the sacred Word of God. This was undoubtedly a contrivance of Satan to undermine the authority of Scripture, and to take away from the reading of it the true advantage. God visited this profanation by a just judgment, when He suffered the pure meaning of the Scripture to be buried under false interpretations.

THOMAS BROOKS: In all ages heretics have commonly defended their heresies by translating the Scriptures into allegories.

JOHN CALVIN: Scripture, they say, is fertile, and thus produces a variety of meanings. I acknowledge that Scripture is a most rich and inexhaustible fountain of all wisdom; but I deny that its fertility consists in various meanings which any man, at his pleasure, may assign. Let us know, then, that the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and obvious meaning; and let us embrace and abide by it resolutely. Let us not only neglect as doubtful, but boldly set aside as deadly corruptions, those pretended expositions, which lead us away from the natural meaning. But what reply shall we make to Paul’s assertion, Galatians 4:24, that these things are allegorical?

RICHARD CECIL (1748-1810): It is a different thing when talking of a typical dispensation, and one unrolled…It is a very different thing, however, to allegorise the old dispensation and the new, the new being plainly substances.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): If our interpretation ever makes the teaching appear to be ridiculous or lead us to a ridiculous position, it is patently a wrong interpretation.

C. H. SPURGEON: John Gill is one whose name must be ever mentioned with honour and respect―but his exposition of the parable of the Prodigal Son strikes me as being sadly absurd in some points. The learned commentator tells us, “the fatted calf” was the Lord Jesus Christ! Really, one shudders to see spiritualizing come to this. Then also there is his exposition of the Good Samaritan. The beast on which the wounded man was placed is again our Lord Jesus, and the two pence which the Good Samaritan gave to the host, are the Old and New Testament, or the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

RICHARD CECIL: How dreadful, if I lead thousands with nonsense; if I lose opportunities of bringing solid truths home; if I waste their precious time!―I shall, therefore, carry to my grave perhaps a deep conviction of the danger of entering too far into typical or allegorical interpretation.

J. C. RYLE: I only venture the remark that it is far wiser to abstain from allegorical interpretations as a general rule, and to be content with the plain meaning which appears on the surface of Scripture.

C. H. SPURGEON: Despite this caution, there is a legitimate range for spiritualizing, or rather for the particular gift which leads men to spiritualize. You may allow much latitude in spiritualizing to men of rare poetical temperament, such as John Bunyan. Gentlemen, did you ever read John Bunyan’s spiritualizing of Solomon’s Temple? It is a most remarkable performance, and even when a little strained it is full of a consecrated ingenuity.

JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688): There lies, as wrapped up in a mantle, much of the glory of our gospel matters in this temple which Solomon builded; therefore I have made, as well as I could, by comparing spiritual things spiritual, this book upon this subject. I dare not presume to say that I know I have hit right in every thing; but this I can say, I have endeavoured to do so.

GEORGE OFFOR (1787-1864): While we cannot doubt but that the temple and its services contained many types highly illustrative of the Christian dispensation, incautious attempts to find them may lead to fanciful interpretations which tend to cloud, rather than to elucidate gospel truths. Bunyan very properly warns his readers against giving the reins to their imaginations and indulging in speculations like those fathers, who in every nail, pin, stone, stair, knife, pot, and in almost every feather of a sacrificed bird could discern strange, distinct, and peculiar mysteries.

C. H. SPURGEON: John Bunyan is the chief, and head, and lord of all allegorists, and is not to be followed by us into the deep places of typical and symbolical utterance. He was a swimmer, we are but mere waders, and must not go beyond our depth…Do not drown yourself because you are recommended to bathe.

JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): As for those allegories of Origen, and other wanton wits, luxuriant in this way, what are they else but as one calleth them, Scripture froth?

C. H. SPURGEON: To allegorize with Origen may make men stare at you, but your work is to fill men’s mouths with truth, not to open them with wonder…Gentlemen, if you aspire to emulate Origen in wild, daring interpretations, it may be as well to read his life and note attentively the follies into which even his marvellous mind was drawn by allowing a wild fancy to usurp absolute authority over his judgment.

THOMAS BROOKS: By the strength of his faculties and undisciplined mind, Origen turned most of the Scriptures into allegories, and by the just judgment of God upon him, foolishly understood and absurdly applied Matthew 19:12 literally, Some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven―and so, he gelded himself.
*Editor’s Note: Origen (circa 184-254 A.D.) was a church theologian in Alexandria who ventured into the dangerous no-man’s-land beyond the wire of wise limitations and judicious Scripture comparison, and wrested the Scripture unto his own destruction.


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