St. Paul Interpreting Scripture

In today’s Epistle (1 Corinthians 9:2-12), St. Paul engages in a form of Scriptural interpretation which we might call allegory – he obviously rejects a literal reading of Deuteronomy 25:4, and gives the text a spiritual meaning.

St. Paul the Apostle

Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?

This form of “allegorical” interpretation of Scripture was commonly used by the first Christians in the apostolic era and carried on into Patristic Christianity as well.   Since we find it used in the New Testament as a way to interpret the Old, we have to admit it is a biblical form of interpreting the Scriptures.

“…whatever language the Fathers use to describe their exegetical practice (and there is no great consistency here), they all interpret Scripture in a way we would call allegorical, and allegoria is the usual word the Latin Fathers use from the fourth century onwards to characterize the deeper meaning they are seeking in the Scriptures.  Some of the Fathers, it is true, attack what they call allegory and its use; but what they are attacking are the results (particularly the results that Origen came up with) and not the method.… Even the Antiochen Fathers admit of a deeper spiritual meaning (which they call not allegoria but the ‘contemplative’ meaning—kata theorian).…   the idea that the text means what the author meant it to mean—the idea, almost, that the meaning of a text is a past historical event—give us a sense that the meaning of a text is something objective, something unproblematic…(Augustine) takes it for granted that the meaning of a text is what the author intended.”   (Andrew Louth, DISCERNING THE MYSTERY: AN ESSAY ON THE NATURE OF THEOLOGY, pp 96-98)

The Parable of the Unforgiving Forgiven Servant

The Unforgiving Forgiven Servant  (Matthew 18:23-35)

At that time, Jesus said to Peter, “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same   servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and   besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you   besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Commenting on this parable, St. John Chrysostom wrote:

Because the man who did not forgive his debtor ten denarii did not injure his fellow slave but made himself liable to the debt of ten thousand talents of which he had formerly been absolved. Therefore, when we do not forgive others, we do not forgive ourselves. Let us not, then, merely say to God: ‘Do not remember our sins,’ but let all of us address to ourselves the words: ‘Let us not remember the offenses of our fellow slaves committed against us.’ ( St. John Chrysostom     Homilies on St. John 1-47, Vol. 33, pg 400)