Contrast of Allegorical, Spiritualization, and Genre Hermeneutic

One of the best things about Biblical studies is that the Bible applies to every area of life. However, in order to come to the proper application one must have a proper hermeneutic. The basic definition of hermeneutic is: the science and art of Biblical interpretation. The purpose of this article is to contrast three basics types of hermeneutics. The three basic types of hermeneutics that will be addressed are: Allegorical, Spiritualization, and Genre. The most productive way to achieve this purpose is to look at each hermeneutic singularly and then conclude with a basic summary and evaluation of these hermeneutic principles.
The first hermeneutic to consider is Allegorical Hermeneutic. This type of hermeneutical approach looks at the Bible in pictures, symbols, and representatives. Allegorical Hermeneutic was made popular by Alexandrian Jewish theologians. According to Dr. Christopher Cone these theologians saw that “the allegorical hermeneutic was a justification of perceived inconsistencies within the Old Testament regarding in particular God’s relations with man.” By attempting to justify these so-called inconsistencies it thus causes the Bible to submit to the philosophies of the day in order to justify scripture with the world. This of course can be very problematic for the inerrancy and inspiration of scripture. One must not try to make the Bible fit with current society trends and ideas, however, society should strive to fit with the Bible. Allegorical Hermeneutic can thus lead to a twisted view of scripture and ultimately of the Biblical God. In his book Prolegomena Dr. Christopher Cone writes: “The allegorical approach functions in the world of ideas rather than words, resulting in numerous interpretations of any particular verse, rejecting the literal sense whenever there is perceived philosophical contradiction.” Coming to numerous interpretations of scripture will demote God to the point that one may doubt his very existence. Jesus said that He is the truth. Since Jesus is the truth and Jesus is God, then the obvious conclusion is that the Bible is never wrong. If the Bible is never wrong, then how can there be multiple meanings to scripture? The Bible is either right or it is wrong if it is wrong then all we believe is in vain. This allegorical approach undermines the authority of God’s Word. Mal Couch writes: “allegorical interpretation creates meaning through the interpreter.” In other words, the interpreter decides the meaning of scripture rather than letting scripture speak for itself. Though allegory may be found within scripture, to interpret the Bible allegorically is not a legitimate hermeneutic.
The next hermeneutic to consider is Spiritualization Hermeneutic. This from is similar to allegorical hermeneutic as it seeks to find hidden meanings behind scripture. By looking at scripture in this light, it puts man in charge making him the authority of scripture rather than God. This type of hermeneutic approach is seen in many charismatic circles. Those who claim to have ‘new revelation’ or ‘a new meaning’ fall into spiritualization hermeneutic. The difference between spiritualization and allegorical is in the motivation. Allegorical hermeneutic seeks to justify supposed inconsistencies where as spiritualization seeks to find a deeper meaning to the scripture. “The spiritualization hermeneutic seeks deeper meaning in the text, and uses allegorical methods to accomplish that end.” An example of this spiritualization approach is found in the ideas of Kant as stated by Dr. Christopher Cone: “Kant believed that the value of Scripture was found in the moral improvement of mankind, and therefore, if a literal understanding of a passage unveiled no particular moral truth, the literal interpretation was to be de-emphasized in favor of an allegorical approach from which would arise a moral truth.” This is what spiritualization hermeneutic seeks to do, to find a hidden meaning, to find a meaning that is not literally there. This type of approach can be very dangerous as the Bible clearly instructs us to not add or take away from the Word of God. We are to take scripture for what it says and not seek to find some hidden meaning. In looking at both allegorical and spiritualization hermeneutics we cannot completely throw it out. The fact is that there are allegories within the Bible and there are deeper meanings in scripture. As John Phillips writes: “We recoil from such allegorizing, but we must not abandon all allegorical interpretation of scripture simply because the method has been abused. There are allegories in the Bible.” However, to us an allegorical or spiritualization approach can prove to be very dangerous and the majority of the time if not all of the time results in a false interpretation of scripture.
The final hermeneutic approach we will consider in this article is Genre Hermeneutic. This type of hermeneutic basis its interpretation of scripture on the basic genre of the text. Dr. Christopher Cone state: “Genre, or literary form, hermeneutics sees recognition of literary form as the overriding factor in the hermeneutic process. By redefining the structure of various books, genre hermeneutics provides a means whereby the literal grammatical historical approach can be abandoned.” The mistake that we find in genre hermeneutics is the idea that the men who penned the words of scripture understood everything they were writing. This idea can be very problematic as when it comes to certain Bible prophecies it is hard to believe that the men who penned the words could have known the meaning behind what they were writing based on the circumstances of their day. Marshall Johnson sees the defining principle of genre hermeneutics as: “writings must have had a meaning for their first readers, or at least, the author must have thought so.” As one interprets the Bible he should take into account the genre of the scripture, however, it should not be the overriding factor in the interpretation of scripture. In his book Prolegomena Dr. Christopher Cone gives us two principles that preside over literary form: “1. Literary form should not be a reason to avoid the literal hermeneutic. Regardless of the genre, the text is to be interpreted literally. 2. The scriptures are unique and therefore the identification of literary form should not be based upon secular documentation such as myth and apocalyptic literature.” There are five basic genres that are identified in scripture as given to us by Dr. Cone:
1. Primary Historical Narrative
2. Complementary Historical Narrative
3. Poetry and Praise
4. Prophecy
5. Epistles.
In the process of Biblical interpretation we should not overlook the genre of the text and the historical background. Douglas Stewart writes: “There usually is considerable overlap between the literary context and the historical context of an OT passage. Nevertheless, it is helpful to try to identify whether some feature is primarily literary or primarily historical.” Looking at the genres of scripture does have its place in properly interpreting the Word of God. As Dr. Tim White of Gospel Baptist Church and Piedmont Baptist College writes in his blog: “Understanding the literary genres of Scripture is necessary for the preacher to properly interpret the Word of God.” Though we must recognize and consider these genres in scripture, we must not interpret scripture based on the genre. The meaning of scripture is not found in the genre, it is found in what the scripture literally says.
In looking at these three types of hermeneutics: Allegorical, Spiritualization, and Genre we find that there are elements of all three that can be used in interpreting scripture. However, to use one of these methods as the basis for all Biblical interpretation will result in many different forms of theology and ideas. This author believes that the proper approach in the study of scripture is a literal grammatical historical hermeneutic. In order to fully exegesis scripture one must use the literal grammatical historical hermeneutic. As Paul Enns writes: “Exegesis calls for an analysis of the Biblical text according to the literal-grammatical-historical methodology.” As many theologians have said: “If the plain sense makes perfect sense, seek no other sense.”

One thought on “Contrast of Allegorical, Spiritualization, and Genre Hermeneutic

  1. Pingback: Where did all the Jewish Believers go? – Pilgrimage of Truth

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