Closing the Gate on Allegory

Lion Gate

We detailed earlier how, historically, an issue that has plagued interpreters is the relationship between the human author(s) of Scripture and the Divine Author. What is the relationship between the two? 

First, since the Divine Author chose to communicate His will for mankind through human authors, then the human author’s meaning (often called the “literal meaning”) is the Divine Author’s meaning. What’s more, the Divine Author chose to give us the Bible progressively. Therefore, we must respect the way in which God progressively revealed Himself. This makes the “Analogy of Antecedent Scripture” all-the-more important to close the gate on the allegorical tendencies we have witnessed throughout history.  

Analogy of Antecedent Scripture

The Analogy of Antecedent Scripture acts as one gatekeeper which protects against multiple meanings rushing-in to corrupt the biblical author’s single truth-intention. Kaiser notes:  

The only correction that we know for past and present abuses that have taken place in the name of doing theological exegesis is to carefully restrict the process to (1) examination of explicit affirmations found in the text being exegeted and (2) comparisons with similar (sometimes rudimentary) affirmations found in passages that have preceded in time the passage under study.[1]

This means we read the Bible forward, not backward. That is, we must (initially!) limit any theological observations (or proof-texts) to scriptures the biblical author knew at the time he wrote. Indeed, we must be deliberate not to allow later revelation to alter the biblical author’s intent. Once our exegesis is complete, however, we would be remiss if we failed to trace-out any subsequent theological developments in our summaries or conclusion. Again, this is only reasonable since it respects the way God gave us the Bible: progressively. 

Abuses creep in when we begin interpreting the Bible backwards. 

So serious are we about this point that we must sound an alarm: The greatest threat to accurate Christian proclamation is a violation of the Analogy of Antecedent Scripture, and the last 50 years of preaching bear that out. Today, we see pastors/theologians who decry allegory while actively, though oftentimes unwittingly, engaging in it![2] Largely, this is done by imposing later theological grids, developments, or proof-texts of which the biblical author was unaware at the time he wrote. To objectively critique this methodology nearly always elicits two quick but bold assertions: (1) I merely am exposing the Divine Author’s meaning and (2) I merely am employing the same hermeneutical powers as did the NT apostles. 

To this, Kaiser responds: 

The whole approach is wrongheaded historically, logically, and biblically . . . The tendency to interpret the Bible backward is a serious procedural problem, for it will leave a large vacuum in our teachings and provide seedbeds for tomorrow’s heresies.[3]

Indeed, our previous article (Is Every Text Pregnant with Meanings?) documented those seedbeds and the terrible heresies that sprang from them.

Perhaps you have experienced the frustration of someone taking your words out of context. Anyone who has knows the experience can be maddening. It stands to reason, then: We should offer the biblical human authors the same courtesy we expect from others. Perhaps a couple of examples will illustrate. 

A Good Example

Romans 10:13 is a clear case of “intertextuality:” i.e., one biblical author citing another biblical author who preceded him in time. Paul states: For “everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” He is citing the OT prophet, Joel (Joel 2:32). Obviously, Joel informed the Apostle Paul’s theology. So let’s investigate Joel’s assertion. Joel 2:32 states: And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the Name of the LORD shall be saved [Paul cites this part of the verse]For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls [Paul did not cite this part of the verse]Joel 2:32b, which part Paul did not cite, tips us off to something important: Joel actually defines who will call upon the Name of the LORD. Namely, those whom the LORD effectually calls. Paul didn’t bring this part to the attention of his hearers. It was unnecessary. He had treated God’s elective purposes already in Romans 9, but Joel’s theology certainly informed Paul’s. The Analogy of Antecedent Scripture gives us a valuable piece of direct evidence to that effect. We are on solid footing with this direct piece of evidence to assert: Just as the elect in Joel’s day would be saved by faith alone, so the elect in Paul’s day will be saved by faith alone. 

A Not-So-Good Example

Theologians have long-suggested Boaz is a type of Christ even though no NT author makes that connection. Mitchell L. Chase recently argues as much and builds his case based on seven “correspondences:” (1) Boaz was from Judah’s tribe; Christ was from Judah’s tribe; (2) Boaz was from Bethlehem; Christ was born in Bethlehem; (3) Boaz redeemed Ruth; Christ redeems sinners; (4) Boaz welcomed foreigners; Christ welcomes Gentiles; (5) Boaz was overly-kind; Christ is overly kind; (6) Boaz kept the law; Christ kept the law; and, (7) Boaz provided abundantly; Christ provides abundantly.[4]

All these “coincidences” sound alluring until we ask a simple question, “Is this what the human author of Ruth intended to convey?” 

In fairness to Chase, he begins with the human author’s intent: To show how God providentially arranged the lineage of King David. At this point, however, he begins interpreting the Bible backward, imposing later revelation onto Ruth’s author. So alluring and exciting are his analogies that we even start to think, “All these connections can’t be merely coincidences, can they?” Chase himself states, “It cannot be coincidental that go’el appears twenty-two times in the Book of Ruth, the precise number that the word appears in Leviticus.”[5]

Yet, if it were that obvious, how did the NT authors miss it?  

Yet, if it were that obvious, how did the NT authors miss it?

Have we, in all this excitement, perhaps inadvertently shifted the emphasis from the biblical author’s single truth-intention to the reader’s probability recognitions? And, amidst this shift of emphasis, some are left still asking, “Does the biblical author’s single truth-intention mean anything at all?” Or, is his intention merely a springboard to greater and more exciting imaginative speculations? 

When we ask such questions we quickly are met with the famous assertions we refuted earlier: “I have the same hermeneutical powers as the NT authors, and I have uncovered the Divine Author’s meaning that the NT authors missed.” Could it be that the NT authors dropped some grain in the corners of the interpretive field for those coming behind them to glean (i.e., Ruth 2:2)? We remain unconvinced.  

Closing the Gate on Allegory

The previous example, at the least, opens the gate for allegory to enter in. Yet, we are still left wondering, “Is there a disciplined way to preach Christ from the Book of Ruth which is grounded in biblical authority?” Certainly. 

The single truth-intention of Ruth’s author is as follows: To show how God providentially arranged the lineage of King David. The five-verse genealogy which closes the book makes that obvious. This truth-intention must be preserved and emphasized to the degree the biblical author emphasized it; and, in this case, the whole book is structured to bring us to those verses. Otherwise, we run the risk of doing violence to the original author’s intent. 

That genealogy connects Boaz as the great-great grandfather of King David. King David is considered Israel’s greatest king, the one who united Israel. Subsequent revelation in the NT (Matt 1) traces Jesus Christ’s lineage through King David. Further, Peter proclaimed that One greater than King David has been exalted to the right Hand of God (Acts 2:24-36). This direct NT evidence removes any presumption and assures us we are grounding our proclamations in biblical authority. So, Boaz played a critical and providential role in bringing forth the Messiah, Jesus Christ, into the world. In the Divine Author’s progressive revelation, the brightness of this future development deserves and demands to highlighted. 

This method retains and respects the uniqueness of the human author’s intent, reads the Bible forward (not backward), and exalts Christ as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s unfolding promise-plan. In response, every person is left to conclude: If God could use commoners like Boaz and Ruth to exalt a Man to His right Hand to share His throne and rule the new heavens and earth . . . then maybe He can use commoners like you and I to glorify the Promised One, too.

[1]Walt Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology (Baker: 1981), 161.

[2]My dissertation documented that over half the sermons at the Southern Baptist Conventionl Pastor’s Conference displayed strong allegorical tendencies. This was over a decade’s span. See Chipley McQueen Thornton, Allegorical Tendencies and Their Relation to the Doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture (2009).  

[3]Walt Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament (Baker: 2003), 26.

[4]Mitchell L. Chase, “A True and Greater Boaz: Typology and Jesus in the Book of Ruth,” SBTJ 21.1 (2017): 85-96.

[5]Ibid., 91.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Author Lion Gate

Chip Thornton

Pastor of FBC Springville, Alabama. Chip is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his Ph.D. in expository preaching. He enjoys spending time with his family, has a passion for discipleship, and is committed to biblical exposition.