Rich Scripture
Monday of Pentecost 10
14 August 2017
Allegorical interpretations of the Bible have caused great mischief in the history of the church and her teaching. Allegory is a meaning which is beyond the text or even hidden in the larger narrative. But not all allegory is beyond the intended meaning of the text. For example, St. Paul offers an allegory of the relationship of Sara and Hagar in Galatians 4 to teach the distinction between law and gospel. So allegory is actually used by the biblical writers to convey the deep truths of the biblical culture.
Allegory must be kept within its proper boundaries. Foolish and fanciful impositions on the text need to be avoided by readers of the text. There need to be a limit to the games we are willing to play with the text. This limit begins with the presupposition that the speech of the Bible is God's. We are not free to adjust the speaking of God in just whatever way we please. The second commandment refers not merely to the proper use of God's name but also implies that we may not manipulate the Word of God, but must rather to listen to it and be judged by it. We may not ignore the historical or plain meaning of the text, nor may we make an interpretation that vitiates the historical meaning. Nonetheless, multi-faceted meanings are a common characteristic of human language. For example, the double entendre intends to be taken in two ways that are internally ironic. Sarcasm is often loaded with that kind of double meaning. When I do something that is foolish, I will say to myself, "That was smart," although it was nothing of the sort. Lots of language carries richer meanings with it.
The Old Testament often gives multi-faceted meanings to the reader. This is especially true of its descriptions of Jerusalem, the temple, and the sacrificial system. They all point to greater things beyond themselves, the heavenly Jerusalem, the temple who is Christ, and the sacrificial system pointing to the once and for all sacrifice of Christ on the ark of the cross. The writer to the Hebrews unpacks a great deal of that meaning for us in his book. The Bible also mingles the earthly with the heavenly, God's kingdom with the worldly kingdom. The Bible describes earthly chastisements that are part of the moral universe of God's creation together with divine righteousness through the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. Such is the case to which Augustine refers, in which David is both granted divine mercy and also presented with the temporal penalties for his murder and adultery (2Sa 12). What God mercifully overlooks for the sake of Christ might also bring temporal punishments and Scripture speaks of both. The former is the law of the heavenly Jerusalem, the latter the law of the earthly Jerusalem. The heavenly Jerusalem's life is Christ, her King. Reading Scripture according to Christ is to read what testifies to Him (Jn 5:39). Nothing could be richer than that.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Prophetic utterances of three kinds are to be found. Some relate to the earthly Jerusalem, some to the heavenly, and some to both. I think it proper to prove what I say by examples. The prophet Nathan was sent to convict king David of heinous sin, and predict to him what future evils should result. Who can question that this and the like pertain to the terrestrial city, whether publicly, that is, for the safety or help of the people, or privately, when there are given forth for each one's private good divine utterances whereby something of the future may be known for the use of temporal life? But where we read, 'Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new testament with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the testament that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my testament, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the testament that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people' (Heb 8:8-10). Without doubt this is prophesied about the Jerusalem above, whose reward is God Himself, and whose chief and entire good it is to have Him, and to be His. But this pertains to both, that the city of God is called Jerusalem, and that it is prophesied the house of God shall be in it. This prophecy seems to be fulfilled when king Solomon builds that most noble temple. For these things both happened in the earthly Jerusalem, as history shows, and were types of the heavenly Jerusalem.
"This kind of prophecy, as it were compacted and commingled of both the others in the ancient canonical books, containing historical narratives, is of very great significance, and has exercised and exercises greatly the wisdom of those who search holy writ. For example, what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith. And so much is this the case, that some have thought there is nothing in these books either foretold and effected, or effected although not foretold, that does not insinuate something else which is to be referred by figurative signification to the city of God on high, and to her children who are pilgrims in this life. But if this be so, then the utterances of the prophets, or rather the whole of those Scriptures that are reckoned under the title of the Old Testament, will be not of three, but of two different kinds. For there will be nothing there which pertains to the terrestrial Jerusalem only, if whatever is there said and fulfilled of or concerning her signifies something which also refers by allegorical prefiguration to the celestial Jerusalem; but there will be only two kinds, one that pertains to the free Jerusalem, the other to both.
"But just as, I think, they err greatly who are of the opinion that none of the records of affairs in that kind of writings mean anything more than that they so happened, so I think those very daring who contend that the whole gist of their contents lies in allegorical significations. Therefore I have said they are threefold, not two-fold. Yet, in holding this opinion, I do not blame those who may be able to draw out of everything there a spiritual meaning, only saving, first of all, the historical truth. For the rest, what believer can doubt that those things are spoken vainly which are such that, whether said to have been done or to be yet to come, they are not worthy either of human or divine affairs? Who would not recall these to spiritual understanding if he could, or confess that they should be recalled by him who is able?"

Augustine, The City of God, 17.3
John 5:30-47
"I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (ESV)
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, be gracious to all who have gone astray from Your ways and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Your Word; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For Pastor Robert Paul, who was installed as Associate Pastor and Headmaster of Memorial Lutheran Church and School, that he would be upheld in every good deed
For Michael Koutsodontis, that he might cast all of his cares on Christ as he undergoes cancer therapy
For all those who are suffering from inclement weather in the Midwest, that they would be kept safe and enabled rebuild their communities
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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