Allegorical?


#1

Hey all.

I hope this is in the right forum.
I am an unsatisfied atheist who has been searching for the truth for years…and obviously failing lol. I have read the Bible (and a lot of other scriptures, mainly pertaining to the Christian faith)…rather than make me wholeheartedly believe in God, all the study has done is confuse me…and reinforce my atheistic views.
The problem is…a lot of he Bible is written allegorically…how does one discern the allegory from actual historical fact?
I know a man called Jesus existed…or probably did…yet do I believe he was the Son of God and part of the Holy Trinity? No…I do not.

So, my question is…as Catholics, how do you personally decide what is allegory and what is fact?


#2

I was an atheist for some years, but became a Christian at the tail end of the worst four years of my life. I suppose you might say the search for meaning had a bit to do with it.

However the Christian claim is that NO-ONE can come to the Father unless Christ calls him.

John 6:43-44

"Jesus answered and said to them, "Do not grumble among yourselves. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. "It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.…

So in one sense it’s not up to you. It doesn’t seem democratic in our modern understanding, where Jack is as good as his master, but that’s the claim.

But I’ve also had a fair number of spiritual experiences. My father turned up in my bedroom the night he died. We argued and talked, and at the end he gave this terrifying scream and disappeared. Yet since I was an atheist at that time, I tried to forget it and it was nearly four more years before I became Christian.

After becoming Christian, there were other experiences - “double whammies” on three occasions (like a breath going through you in waves from head to foot, and in my case on all three occasions used to emphasise a phrase someone else was saying), heavy gripping pressures at night (demonic) and sundry other items.

Once you commit to God, He doesn’t leave you without some sort of witness.

However on the business of allegory - let’s take Jonah, the alleged whale bait, as an example.

Some take this literally, but modern scholarship does not take such a literal view.

From “The Catholic Bible Study Handbook” - by Jerome Kodell OSB.

Jonah - The Book of Johah is different from the other prophetic writings in that it is a narrative describing the prophet and his work rather than recording his message. Today the book is recognised as a parable confronting the Jews after of (Babylonian) times with their own narrowness towards other peoples. Jonah is sent to preach to the pagan Ninevites against his will and is indignant when they repent and turn to the Lord.l The anonymous author is urging an awareness of and openness to the promise of universal salvation given through Abraham (Gn 12:1-3)"

Now an earlier generation, without the benefit of later scholarship, might have believed the story is literal. But would that really have made any difference to their Christian faith? Since God knows our circumstances, He will also know what formed our theological ethos - education level, wealth or poverty, religious and / or cultural background. So in one sense the question of whether a person believes the story of Johah is literal or alllegorical is irrelevant, except insofar as they take home the primary message - that of being open to other people.

So when Christ referred to being in the belly of the earth for three days as the prophet Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days, was He literally affirming the book of Johah as an historical fact?

Or was He simply using the story as a precursor to His own death and resurrection?

In other words, God’s given you a brain. He expects you to use it.


#3

Thanks for your reply, and it is good to hear the view of a former atheist.

Your allegorical example of Jonah is an easy one to discern…but, let’s use the feeding of the 5000…a miracle? Or was the crowd already prepared with their own food…almost like a worker takes a packed lunch to work…they would be expecting a sermon, so would have expected to be away from home… or is it allegorical? Promoting compassion amongst believers.

The thing is, I do use my brain (either God given or beautifully evolved)…and it tells me to question everything.


#4

We cannot, that is one reason God gave us the Magisterium to guide us to His Truth. We do not personally decide truth rather it is revealed, diserned, observed, and contemplated (and maybe other things). Can you please give us specific examples that have confused you so that, if able, we may assist you.

May the Most Holy Trinity Guide you to Truth


#5

Hi,

The decision as to what is allegorical and what is historical, or literal, is decided by the Church. However, I understand your questions.

catholicnewsagency.com/resources/apologetics/faith/the-real-jesus-christ/

We also have recent miracles that have been studied by doctors and other experts that show a God exists, though no expert could make that claim aside from stating a cure, for example, was complete and sustained. The person who had been cured believing that God had cured him or her.

Regarding some scholarly work about whether Jesus existed, I suggest:

amazon.com/The-Historical-Jesus-Essential-Guides/dp/0687021677

Biblical archaeology is ongoing. I suggest:

biblicalarchaeology.org/magazine/

Hope this helps,
Ed


#6

Whether or not something is allegorical or not is really a question of what the original author intended.

When it comes to the Gospels, it is clear that the authors did not intend it to be mere allegory. The apostles did not resolutely face death because they thought Jesus “rose from the dead” metaphorically.


#7

Answer depends on what one is really questioning besides “everything”.

If one is questioning the Divinity of Jesus Christ according to Catholicism, then feeding the 5000 is a miracle sometimes defined as an extraordinary phenomena. (Food eventually rots–not multiplies in fresh quantities.)

If one is not questioning the Divinity of Jesus Christ, because this prophet is only human among the other human prophets in Scripture, then feeding the 5000 could legitimately happen because the believers had compassion.

Then there is the question which needs to be addressed – Why would anyone have compassion?
Compassion has existed since the dawn of human history. Why, when listening to Jesus Christ, would compassion suddenly arise in people’s hearts? Our history is filled with ignoring the poor and the hungry.

Another question. Considering the Divinity of Jesus, Who is an excellent teacher – if feeding the 5000 is a miracle, could Jesus be pointing to a greater non-human miracle in chapter 6, Gospel of John?


#8

The key word there is “personally.” There are some forms of Christianity–evangelical Protestantism, for example–that frequently invite individuals to make those kind of personal judgments about what biblical content is allegorical and what is literal. The reformer Martin Luther advocated for letting people read and interpret the Bible for themselves, and almost immediately regretted it, lamenting that he had created thousands of mini-Popes.

Here is something from the Catechism about Biblical interpretation, specifically about how Catholics discern between allegory, fact, symbol, etc [typos mine]:


  1. In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way. To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.

  2. In order to discover* the sacred authors intention*, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current. “For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.”

  3. But since Sacred Scripture is inspired, there is another and no less important principle of correct interpretation, without which Scripture would remain a dead letter. “Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.” The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it.

    1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture.” Different as the books which comprise it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover…
    1. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church.” According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”).
    1. Be attentive to the analogy of faith. By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

The senses of Scripture

  1. According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and analogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

  2. The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.” [That’s a quote from Thomas Aquinas]

  3. The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  4. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.

  5. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul Says, they were written “for our instruction.”

  6. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.

  7. A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral How to act; Anagogy our destiny

  1. “It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgment. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God.”

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me. [Augustine]

Protestantism (I used to be one) is really focused on individual judgment concerning scripture; Catholicism is largely concerned with the historical trajectory of interpretation. Biblical interpretation isn’t a stand-alone activity (though certainly individuals can make their own judgments about what is literal and what is allegorical, what is mythical and what is historical). Rather, it is a community project, conducted over centuries among all kinds of specialists.

The Christian scriptures were written and complied by the church, for the church. It would seem like a mistake to ignore the church entirely while interpreting the church’s book. The guiding principle is: what does God want us to know from this passage? The historicity of a given passage, while by no means irrelevant, is secondary to this question.


#9

I think you ask a fundamental question that many of us have faced; Do I believe in the eyewitness accounts of these four men? In the book “Eyewitness to Jesus” (which dealt with the dating of papyrus fragments of Matthew’s Gospel) the author concluded with this passage that I thought was quite profound:

“Whether or not one believes these events happened is entirely a matter of personal faith. What should not be doubted is that the authors of the Gospels considered them of overwhelming, awe-inspiring and perhaps even terrifying significance. We need to imagine men and women breathless with history and overcome by the impulse to record a quite exceptional occurrence. They felt a divinely inspired obligation to tell the world and posterity (if there was to be a posterity) that God had been made flesh, died on a cross and risen from the dead. The validity of these accounts was never in question. The only issue was whether or not people who heard this “good news” would become followers of of Jesus the Christ. All this happened to ordinary people in occupied Galilee. If we lose sight of this elemental truth about the origins of the Gospels, if we become too far drawn into questions of theory and genre and forget their sheer urgency, we lose sight of what these extraordinary books really are”.


#10

Thank you for a great reply…that was the most comprehensive single answer I have ever received…I already feel I understand a little better.


#11

:thumbsup: An excellent reply!

I also ponder: What does God want me to know from this passage?


#12

I take the view it was a literal miracle. There are those who like to think the crowd all came prepared, but I don’t think so. Why should they - if an alleged miracle worker suddenly turned up in your neighbourhood, and everyone rushed out to hear him, how many do you think would have the foresight to make a cut lunch, pack it in the esky, and fill up the vacuum flask?

Nor is there any evidence that they did so. All the evidence points to a miraculous multiplication of the food.

In more modern times, there were two miracles at Fatima in 1917, when Mary appeared to the three children. The first was the well known “dancing sun”, witnessed by about 70,000 people. However this was a supernaturally enforced perception rather than a literal miracle since the sun did not really dance.

But there was a literal miracle. It had been raining quite heavily and the ground and the people’s clothes were wet and muddy. Yet suddenly they noticed the ground had dried, and their clothes were clean and dry also.

Water has quite a high specific heat. Scientists calculated that for this to happen, considering how much water we’re talking about, the energy requirement was about the same as that given by the explosion of a ten megaton hydrogen bomb.

Yet you’ll hardly hear a word about this in the secular press.


#13

That is why God never left us a bible. God left us the Church and the Leaders to Preach and TEACH the good news.

The bible cannot teach. If it could and was easy you would totally understand what you are reading.

If you truly want God all you have to do is be sincere, and ask him to send the Holy Spirit to you. Then wait for him to so as you asked.

If you truly want God he will make it possible, If you truly don’t he knows this also, and will not be fooled by you.


#14

And as we both know, when he wants you to know, and what he wants you to know will come from his grace when you are ready to hear it.:wink:


#15

Here is one method I personally discern the allegorical and historical facts of the Bible.

Catholicism knows “…God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason.” (CCC #36)
Therefore, I reason a solution to (1) “what is the greatest creation of human beings possible?” Then, I reason a solution to (2) “what are necessary components of such a creation?”
Last, I reason a solution to (3) “in recognition of God, as the Creator of everything, what are necessary components of such a creation for the person who created everything?”

From my reasoning, I have found some of the following to be the resolutions:
(1) A growing community of true friends.
(2) Persons who always freely follow the rules of friendship and do their part to add friends to the community.
(3) The Creator of everything must remain the all-knowing Father, must process through eternal generation from the Father as the only-begotten Son, and must process through eternal procession of a single spiration from the Father and the Son as the Holy Spirit in order to ensure order is eternally maintained in the Heavenly community, participate as a friend in the community, and definitively share the means to become an eternal friend with created beings.

Thanks for your time and consideration! May the peace of Christ be with you on your journey!


#16

I mentioned in my previous reply to your post above that there were two miracles at Fatima. I’ve given a quote from the following link.

fatima.org/essentials/facts/1917appar.asp

Yet another astonishing aspect of the Miracle was that all of the thousands of people, most of whom were soaked to the bone and dirty from the mud, suddenly found that their clothes were dry and clean.

"The moment one would least expect it, our clothes were totally dry." (Maria do Carmo)10
"My suit dried in an instant." (John Carreira)11.
The academician Marques da Cruz testified:
This enormous multitude was drenched, for it had rained unceasingly since dawn. But – though this may appear incredible – after the great miracle everyone felt comfortable, and found his garments quite dry, a subject of general wonder 

The truth of this fact has been guaranteed with the greatest sincerity by dozens and dozens of persons of absolute trustworthiness, whom I have known intimately from childhood, and who are still alive (1937), as well as by persons from various districts of the country who were present.12

In one aspect, this is the most astonishing effect of the miracle and an indisputable proof of its authenticity: The amount of energy needed to accomplish this process of drying in a natural way and in such a short a time, would have incinerated everyone present at the Cova at that time. As this aspect of the miracle contradicts the laws of nature radically, no demon could ever have achieved it.

Finally, many miracles of conversion, the greatest miracle God can bestow, also occurred. Here are two examples:

The captain of the regiment of soldiers on the mountain that day – with orders to prevent the gathering of the crowd – was converted instantly. Apparently so were hundreds of other unbelievers, as their testimony will show.13
"There was an unbeliever there who had spent the morning mocking the ‘simpletons’ who had gone off to Fatima just to see an ordinary girl. He now seemed paralyzed, his eyes fixed on the sun. He began to tremble from head to foot, and lifting up his arms, fell on his knees in the mud, crying out to God." (Father Lourenço)14

#17

When this topic comes up I always like to refer people to the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s document:

The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church


#18

WHOA there brother. That is not entirely correct. You are on the border of predetermination or maybe a little over the line. God desires that all men be saved. The verse says that no one can come to the Father except through Jesus. That does not damn the stone age tribe who never heard the name of Jesus. Nor does it damn the mentally retarded who have no concept of Jesus or God for that matter. The parable of the talents enters here. We will be judged by what we are given. Those who have been given much then much will be required of them. Those who have been given little then little will be required. That guy from the stone age tribe who, through no fault of his own, has never heard the name of Jesus will not be judged as severely as you and I. But you and I will be required to account for what we have done with what we were given and that may include that we may have to account as to why that stone age tribe never heard the gospel.


#19

I would suggest starting with the New Testament.
It might help to say the Lords prayer and ask for understanding before you start and during your moments of contemplation.
I choose at most a chapter at a time; there’s too much depth.
There’s the Catechism to clarify the many questions that will arise.
I find that the meaning of the words, whatever linguistic form they may take, comes across. This is where prayer helps.

As to the parts that seem incredible:

  • These are excellent opportunities to grow intellectually and spiritually.
  • Why does one believe what one does. There was a mention of Jonah earlier. I have a particular affinity to him. At one point I chose the story as being the least believable. It became a sort of Christian equivalent of a Zen Koan. I began a long process of self-reflection as to what were my preconceptions about the nature of reality - where they originated and how they influence my experience of the world. Jonah is actually one of the stories that is most alive and real for me. I have no idea what this means, but it’s as if I can empathically connect with each character in the story. I’m not insane. It is so cold in that fish, relentlessly following God’s will through the deep.
  • Scripture speaks of God. Miracles are either believed or not. Mary did not initially understand the Archangel Gabriel, knowing then what science has only elaborated, that things do not happen haphazardly.

You are asking about scripture, but Catholicism involves a total commitment to a relationship with God, who is Love itself, and to one another as His children. It’s not just about figuring things out.


#20

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