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by Brother Lashon Bush

When it comes to people of faith, they normally have a source or a document that is revered as being sacred or holy, in the eyes of a faith’s respective believers, as it is in the case of the Christian. Christians believe that God’s reflection and creative genius is visible all around and can be found in the beauty of the creation; however, we also believe that God has given mankind a written set of instructions and a guide by which we are to govern our life by. This written word of God is commonly referred to as the Bible.

Often you will hear human beings wonder why they are created, especially when confronted with a situation that is hostile or that could be considered a crisis; I believe that the answer to the question of “why was I created?” can be found within the pages of the Bible. Within the pages of the Bible, God has given a written account of the purpose of mankind to include the creation, fall, and redemption of man, which was accomplished by and through the collaborative work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (God not being responsible for the fall of man, obviously).

This book, the Bible, is comprised of 66 books and spans from the beginning of creation, which can be found in the book of Genesis, all the way up until the end of the world as we currently know it, as described in the book of Revelation; following the return of Christ and the rapture of the saints. In between the beginning of the world and the end of it, can be found the historical account of the people of God and their salvation, captured in the Old Testament, (which looked forward to the coming of Jesus the Messiah) and the New Testament (which captures the life ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Messiah).

Of the 66 books that have been canonized (recognized by councils as being legitimately the word of God), 39 can be found in the Old Testament and 27 found in the New Testament. The Bible was written over a span of 1500 years and has over 40 different authors that wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which undoubtedly contributes to its amazing cohesiveness, unmatched or paralleled by any other document on the face of this earth.

2 Peter 1:21 speaks of prophecies contained within the pages of the Bible and their origin is ultimately from God and not man; “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”, (2 Pt 1:21). Another scripture that indicates that the bible was ultimately written by God can be found in the verses of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”, (2 Tim 3:16-17).

With such an important book as the Bible being in existence, as pertaining to the Christian faith, obviously the meaning and interpretation of the words of this book would become and is a matter of great significance. As communicated earlier the Bible is both a historical book of record as well as a book that can be considered prophetic in nature, since it foretells of future events and herein can be found the point of contention between those that would argue the literal interpretation of scripture versus the allegorical interpretation of scripture.

Where there is no denying that the Bible is a book that uses figurative language, even by those who would support a literal interpretation of scripture, the dissension or disagreement arises between the extremities when we are confronted with the question of when to apply the hermeneutic of allegorical interpretation, some would say that the scripture should be interpreted plainly, unless it is explicitly communicated otherwise, while others argue for assignment of parabolic meaning to passages, considering the Bible is a spiritual book, utilizing the Biblical principle that one cannot understand the true meaning of scripture without the assistance of the Holy Spirit which serves as the guide and light.

There have been many theologians over the course of history that have weighed in on the controversy at hand. This paper will examine an Apostolic Father who speaks to the very heart of the matter of how the Bible should be interpreted. The Apostolic Father of whom I speak is no other than that of Origen.

Origen utilized a method of exegesis, outlined in his body of work “On First Principles 4” that consisted of a triple hermeneutic describing three levels of interpreting scripture literal (historical), moral (psychic or soul), and spiritual (pneumatic). I will be assessing the validity of Origen’s exegetical procedure of going from the “linguistic meaning” to “the meaning hidden under the letter” and will be providing arguments that I believe support the validity of the claim being made by Origen, which I believe to be an accurate hermeneutic.


[1] “Origen, whose full name is Origenes Adamantius was born in Alexandria about A.D.182. He died at Caesarea Maritima around 252 and is considered one of the most distinguished apologists of the early church. He was a scholar, theologian, and prolific author.”

Origen was born to and raised by Christian parents until his father Leonides, who was especially devoted to the faith, was martyred. Origen wanted to join his father Leonides in Martyrdom but was prevented from doing so by his mother who hid his clothes, leaving him naked and precluding Origen from leaving the house. Origen’s father trained him in various areas of knowledge, to include the Bible. As one of the older boys in the family, Origen’s childhood was believed to be a much-disciplined one. Roughly around the year 200, the Severus persecutions began and Origen’s father Leonides was killed leaving the family without resources, which in turn led Origen to travel to Alexandria in search of income. Upon arrival at the school of Alexandria, Origen was hired as the trainer of the candidates for baptism. Origen was able to obtain the job as a trainer for candidates of baptism after impressing bishop Demetrius who had taken over as bishop for Clement, directly related to bishop Clement fleeing during the Severus persecution.

In 211 Origen traveled to Rome to advance his studies consequently discovering that Rome offered nothing that would help him further his understanding of the faith due to the apparent lack of discipline and devotion he encountered while there. Origen would return to Alexandria with a newfound motivation to teach. Origen’s passion for teaching contributed to the re-establishment of the school of Alexandria as a premier institution of learning and can be directly attributed to the increase in enrollment which caused Origen to enlist the help of Heraclas, the brother of Plutarch (one of Origen’s best students). After a series of discussions, Origen was able to convert Ambrose of Alexandria to Christianity from Valentianism, which is a form of Gnosticism. The relationship between Ambrose of Alexandria and Origen would prove to be of importance in the production of many of the works that Origen would scribe in the future because it was through Origen’s relationship with Ambrose that he was able to finance the publication of these works.

In 215 Origen escaped to Caesarea when the school of Alexandria was forced to close, due to civil unrest, returning in 216 after the conflict subsided. There are many accounts of the life of Origen that communicate that he was the frequent target of heretics and used by bishops within close vicinity of Caesarea to combat heresies. [2] “Aggressive persecution broke out in the year 250, and Origen was captured and tortured for his faith. He did not die immediately but lingered for two years, suffering from his horrendous torture.” Origen is credited with being one of the first classic theologians in the Hellenized church and is one of the leaders of the allegorical school of interpreting Scripture. One of Origen’s more significant contributions to the Christian faith includes the body of work entitled; “Hexapla” which was a translation of the Old Testament containing six columns, one column in original Hebrew, one column in a Greek translation of Hebrew with the remaining four columns consisting of unique Greek translations of the Old Testament.

In addition to the “Hexapla”, Origen wrote commentaries on the Bible, an apologetic work by the title of “Against Celsus” (directed against pagans) and produced a body of work entitled “On First Principles”. First, Principles was specifically written with the advanced students at Alexandria in mind. [3] “Origen’s allegorical approach to Scripture, in which he attempted to find “hidden” meanings behind text” is discussed at length within the previously mentioned body of work “On First Principles” within book 4 and it is now that we will turn our attention to this and the claims that are made by Origen related to how we should interpret God’s word.


[4] “For Origen, the scripture always had a non-literal meaning, except when the scripture spoke anthropomorphically, about God, legislated irrational laws, or recorded impossibilities in the historical narrative.” When Origen’s writings were reviewed it was determined that there was a fourfold meaning of scripture: historical (literal), moral, allegorical (doctrinal), and anagogical (eschatological). The Jews favored the historical interpretation of the scripture; however, it was this error in Jewish theology that, according to Origen, we can attribute to the Jews not being able to recognize Jesus the Messiah when he actually came.

A proper understanding of the scripture took into account the previously mentioned methods of interpreting scripture; [5] “This balanced method is based on tripartite anthropology. The same way the Greeks viewed the human being as having a body, soul, and spirit the scriptures are viewed with having a literal, moral, and spiritual sense. Origen does imply that the task of the skillful exegete is to “identify the heavenly realities” of a passage carefully. The “simple-minded” miss this fact, like the literalist Jews who could not get passed the misunderstandings of the messianic prophecies.”

Moral values and lessons could be gleaned from scripture, according to Origen, and at times it was necessary to assign heavenly properties to language in the Bible (allegorical). Origen adopted the belief, from Certain Gnostics of Origen’s day, that there could be made a distinction between those Christians that took God’s word literally from those that had more of an allegorical interpretation of passages in the Bible, finally there were those Christians that had understanding into the deep mysteries of the scripture; [6] “Although Origen rejected much of what he heard there, he adopted the Gnostics’ distinction between literal Christians, who understood only the literal sense of the Bible; psychic Christians, who went beyond this to consider the spiritual meaning of Scripture; and perfect Christians, who understood and followed the deepest meanings of the Bible.”

Historical interpretation versus Allegorical interpretation is what is at view here. Once again there is no denying the historical value and accuracy of the Bible, but can we justifiably assign values to words and verses within scripture to come to a deeper understanding of what is being communicated, even when there is no explicit reference to the need to understand a passage in any other way than the literal sense? The answer to this question is yes and the justification for this type of hermeneutics can be found within the pages of the Bible; 1 Corinthians 2:13-14: “13. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14. But the natural man receiveth, not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”, (2 Cor 2:13-14).

In the above verses, it appears that God is communicating that natural man can not truly understand things that are spiritual and from God because they are spiritually discerned. In other parts of the Bible, Jesus can be found speaking in parables and when asked why he did this? He communicated in Mathew 13: 11-15;” Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them, it is not given. . . .Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. . . . lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them”, (Mt 13:11-15).

There are examples of historical events in the bible that occurred that have been types or shadows of things that would be fulfilled literally or spiritually in the future. One example that comes to mind is the sign of the Passover kept by the Jews. The Jewish people who were brought out of Egypt, by Moses through God’s protective hand, kept this ceremonial holiday in remembrance of the occasion when blood was placed over the doors of each Jewish individual’s house allowing the spirit of death to “Passover”, however, the true significance of this Jewish ceremonial law was spiritual! The Passover had a literal historical significance without question, but within this historical event, that has occurred on earth, there lies a greater spiritual truth, which is the argument that Origen makes concerning allegorical interpretation being the primary method of understanding the scripture; (everything that we find in the bible is ultimately related to God and the salvation of his people, we are to look for the hidden meaning under the letter and this hidden meaning relates to the Gospel message; the question should always be asked, how does what I am reading relate to Jesus Christ and the Gospel?).

The true significance of the Passover, that was and still is observed by those of Jewish faith to this day, is both a literal one, where Jesus Christ physically died on the cross as the Passover lamb (this historical fulfillment of the “Passover”, a ceremonial law, is unrecognized by those of Jewish faith today) and even more significantly a spiritual one in the sense that this physical act at the cross externally represented and demonstrated the fact that Jesus Christ would cover the sins of his elect as the Passover lamb of God, (Christ was crucified on the Passover). I must communicate that Origen did not necessarily agree with this allegorical interpretation of the Passover being related to Christ’s passion; however, it serves as an example that many holds to be an accurate allegorical interpretation; [7] “ The Passover, Origen writes, “is indeed a type of Christ, but certainly not of his passion” for the simple reason that the dissimilarity between these events is too great: whereas righteous people killed the first paschal lambs, Jesus was put to death by criminals and sinners.”

The Passover is one example of the hidden meaning behind the letter within the Bible; however, the Bible is filled with countless other examples once we realize that everything in the pages of the Bible that, has historically occurred has been used by God to communicate something that ultimately relates to the centerpiece of the Bible; that being Jesus Christ and God’s salvation program for his elect. Once we began to see the Bible in the light of Jesus, we can understand that the things that we count as reality and of an enduring nature; God counts as temporal, mainly our life physically on this earth; 2 Corinthians 4:18 “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”, (2 Cor 4:18). The spiritual reality of life is what is unseen by the natural eye. The events captured within the Bible have a significant meaning in a historical sense, especially to the individuals who experienced the circumstances and lived during the times in which these events occurred, but more often than not; I would dare to say, they always ultimately point towards the message of the gospel once we add up the sum of the parts.

One other example of a historical event that serves as an allegory and that is explicitly mentioned as being an allegory within the pages of the Bible, has to do with the two covenants of God; that being the covenant that was given under the law, pertaining to the historical and physical Jerusalem and the Old Testament, and the covenant that was given by grace related to faith and Spiritual Jerusalem, which is the enduring reality of the whole matter, spoken on by the author of Galatians, quite possibly Paul, who refuted the desire of some members of the Galatian church to implement Old Testament customs into New Testament worship, within Galatians Chapter 4:21-26; “21 – Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? 22 – For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 23 – But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh, but he of the freewoman was by promise. 24 – Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25 – For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 – But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”, (Gal 4:21-26).

[8] “Examples of Origen’s allegorical Scripture interpretation abound in his writings, particularly in his commentaries and homilies. For instance, in his 27th homily on the book of Numbers, he describes the growth in the spiritual life based on the 42 stopping places of Israel in the wilderness mentioned in Numbers 33. Origen begins by asking why the Lord wanted Moses to write this passage down: “Was it so that this passage in Scripture about the states the children of Israel made might benefit us in some way or that it should bring no benefit? Who would dare to say that what is written “by the Word of God” is of no use and makes no contribution to salvation but is merely a narrative of what happened and was over and done a long time ago, but pertains in no way to us when it is told?”


It must be said that Origen’s allegorical method of interpreting scripture was for the most part opposed to the standard of the day which favored more of a literal translation and that it was for this reason that he was at odds with the early church community; however this fact does not negate the significance of his contributions to the faith taking due care to understand that a majority rule does not necessarily constitute a correct hermeneutic process.

God’s blessings in Christ Jesus,

Brother Bush

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