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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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This word is found in the Authorized Version of Galatians 4:24, but it does not actually exist as a noun in the Greek Testament, nor even in the Septuagint. In the passage in question Saint Paul cites the history of the free-born Isaac and the slave-born Ishmael, and in proceeding to apply it spiritually, he says, not as in our version, 'which things are an allegory,' but 'which things are allegorized.' This is of some importance; for in the one case the Apostle is made to declare a portion of Old Testament history an allegory, whereas in truth he only speaks of it as allegorically applied. Allegories themselves are, however, of frequent occurrence in Scripture, although that name is not there applied to them.

An Allegory has been sometimes considered as only a lengthened metaphor; at other times, as a continuation of metaphors. But the nature of allegory itself, and the character of allegorical interpretation, will be best understood by attending to the origin of the term which denotes it. Now the term 'Allegory,' according to its original and proper meaning, denotes a representation of one thing which is intended to excite the representation of another thing. Every allegory must therefore be subjected to a twofold examination: we must first examine the immediate representation, and then consider what other representation it is intended to excite. In most allegories the immediate representation is made in the form of a narrative; and, since it is the object of the allegory itself to convey a moral, not an historic truth, the narrative is commonly fictitious. The immediate representation is of no further value than as it leads to the ultimate representation. It is the application or the moral of the allegory which constitutes its worth.

Every parable is a kind of allegory; and as an example, especially clear and correct, we may refer to the parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-15). In this we have a plain narrative, a statement of a few simple and intelligible facts, such, probably, as had fallen within the observation of the persons to whom our Saviour addressed himself. When he had finished the narrative, or the immediate representation of the allegory, he then gave the explanation or ultimate representation of it; that is, he gave the allegorical interpretation of it. And that the interpretation was an interpretation, not of the words, but of the things signified by the words, is evident from the explanation itself: 'The seed is the word of God; those by the wayside are they that hear,' etc. (Luke 8:11, etc.). The impressive and pathetic allegory addressed by Nathan to David affords a similar instance of an allegorical narrative accompanied with its explanation (2 Samuel 12:1-14).

But allegorical narratives are frequently left to explain themselves, especially when the resemblance between the immediate and ultimate representation is sufficiently apparent to make an explanation unnecessary. Of this kind we cannot have a more striking example than that beautiful one contained in Psalms 80:8 : 'Thou broughtest a vine out of Egypt,' etc.

The use of allegorical interpretation is not, however, confined to mere allegory, or fictitious narratives, but is extended also to history, or real narratives. And in this case the grammatical meaning of a passage is called its historical meaning, in contradistinction to its allegorical meaning. There are two different modes in which Scripture history has been thus allegorized. According to one mode, facts and circumstances, especially those recorded in the Old Testament, have been applied to other facts and circumstances, of which they have been described as representative. According to the other mode, these facts and circumstances have been described as mere emblems. The former mode is warranted by the practice of the sacred writers themselves; for when facts and circumstances are so applied, they are applied as types of those things to which the application is made but no such authority in favor of the latter mode of allegorical interpretation can be produced.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Allegory'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​a/allegory.html.
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