By David Tracy, Robert McQueen Grant
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Extra info for A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible
And when he tries to find this teaching expressed in the words of scripture he begins to develop a theory of the symbolism of the Bible. He believes that all scripture speaks in a mysterious language of symbols (Str. 6), just as all those, barbarians and Greeks, who have discussed theology have veiled the ultimate reasons of things; they have transmitted the truth only through enigmas and symbols, allegories, metaphors, and analogous figures (Str. 4). Moses, Plato, and the Egyptians who used hieroglyphics spoke in the same way.
In actual practice, however, Origen rarely makes use of the moral sense as distinct from the other two senses, and he ordinarily distinguishes merely between the “letter” and the “spirit” (2 Cor. 9 Why is Origen so eager to exclude the literal meaning of scripture? We must remember that there is a difference between his understanding of the literal meaning and ours. What he means by “literal” is the interpretation placed on scripture by the simplest of simple believers, those who cannot understand the meaning of metaphors, parables, or allegories, and who insist that every detail in them is literally true.
He relies far more on individual scholarship and intelligence than on any consensus of opinion. Like other Alexandrians, he is a somewhat self-conscious intellectual. For this reason it was difficult for the church to accept wholeheartedly all the implications of his theory of allegory. His influence on later exegesis was very great. While he was bitterly attacked not only by the exegetical school of Antioch but also by such men as Jerome and Augustine, his own pupils continued his work, and even those who attacked him most vigorously were often influenced by his thought.
A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible by David Tracy, Robert McQueen Grant